Putin rejects complaints over move to shut top rights group

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin on Thursday brushed aside complaints about prosecutors’ move to close one of Russia’s most prominent human rights groups, claiming it listed Nazi collaborators among the victims of Soviet-era repression. The Memorial group denied the allegations.

During a video call with members of the Kremlin human rights council, Putin responded to their complaints by asserting that Memorial had listed people allegedly involved in the killings of Jews during World War II alongside victims of Soviet repression.

“Memorial should have conformed to the humane goals it has declared as the core of its activities and it shouldn’t have done things that I mentioned,” Putin said, according to Russian news reports.

Speaking on independent Dozhd television, Nikita Petrov, a leading member of Memorial, rejected Putin’s claim as false. He argued that the group squarely relied on the authorities’ decisions rehabilitating the victims of Soviet-era repressions while compiling their lists.

Petrov also strongly rejected Putin’s claim that Memorial, which protested human rights violations in Chechnya and other regions of Russia’s volatile North Caucasus, was defending groups that were designated as extremist and terrorist by Russian authorities.

Memorial rose to prominence for its studies of political repression in the Soviet Union and currently encompasses more than 50 smaller groups in Russia and abroad.

Last month, Russia’s Supreme Court began proceedings on a request by prosecutors to revoke the legal status of Memorial. The prosecutors alleged that Memorial repeatedly violated regulations obligating it to mark itself as a “foreign agent” and tried to conceal the designation. Memorial and its supporters have described the accusations as politically driven.

The “foreign agent” tag that Memorial received in 2016 implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations. Russian authorities have used the label to tag scores of independent media and nongovernmental organizations that were critical of the Kremlin.

Memorial said it will appeal the ruling if the court decides to shut it down, and will continue operating.

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