End Attacks on Independent Civil Society
Moscow, December 4, 2008) - The Russian government should immediately investigate a police raid on Memorial, a prominent human rights organization, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch also called on the government to ensure the speedy and safe return of all seized equipment and documents.
In the morning of December 4, 2008, seven masked men, armed with batons, broke into the office of the Memorial Research and Information Center in St. Petersburg, cutting the phone lines and barring the three staff members present from leaving the office. The men, who had a warrant signed by the Prosecutors Office, included police, special forces and members of the investigative committee of the Prosecutors Office. They conducted a search of the office that lasted more than seven hours and seized the organizations computer hard drives and other materials, including 20 years of archives on Soviet repression and gulags.
"This outrageous police raid on Memorial shows the poisonous climate for nongovernmental organizations in Russia," said Allison Gill, Moscow office director at Human Rights Watch. "This is an overt attempt by the Russian government to suppress independent civic activity and silence critical voices."
The men did not allow the staff members inside to make phone calls and blocked Memorials lawyer from entering the premises. Memorial eventually learned that the search was ordered by the Prosecutors Office in connection with an investigation against a St. Petersburg newspaper, New Petersburg, for publishing "extremist" articles. A Memorial staff member told Human Rights Watch that Memorial has no relationship with the newspaper and knows nothing about the case against it. Memorial fears that the authorities used the investigation as a pretext to close Memorial. Memorials office serves as an informal gathering point for local activists and provides a forum for discussion and debate.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the hard drives and materials seized from Memorial, which include archives related to the Preservation Foundation, an initiative dedicated to architectural preservation in St. Petersburg, would not be returned or rendered unusable by the authorities.
"Memorials archives on Soviet history are a national treasure. The authorities should take every possible step to protect the materials and return them quickly," said Gill.
5 December 2008
Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into the legality of a raid yesterday by law enforcement officers at the office
of an independent research and information centre in
Amnesty International considers this raid with its violations to be a further indication of the climate of harassment faced by civil society
and human rights defenders in
expression in the
to freedom of expression, as well as the rights to freedom of assembly and association in the
views, independent media and independent organizations to operate is shrinking.
The Research and Information Centre Memorial was established by the human rights organization Memorial and investigates human rights
violations committed during the time of the
Masked officers of Investigatory Committee of St Petersburg Prosecutors office armed with truncheons raided Memorial and seized all computer
hardware and other materials containing the files of thousands of people who had been repressed during the Soviet regime. In violation of the
Russian Criminal Procedure Code no record of the seized items or the content of hard drives was made and the lawyer was not allowed in the
premises. The search was conducted without attesting witnesses and the Memorial representative was not given the record of the search to
familiarize themselves with it.
The officers claimed the search was in connection with an article allegedly of an extremist nature published in a newspaper in St.
newspaper or the author of the article in question.
Representatives of the centre underline that the seized materials are of great research and historical value and are concerned that valuable
information may be lost.