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Russia’s Supreme Court upholds restrictions on access to documents about repression


On 26 January 2011 the Russian Federation Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Memorial regarding access to archival cases of victims of repression.

Memorial had stated that it had become extremely difficult to get access to these files.   The victims and their relatives have the right to see them, however access for others, until the time limit of 75 years elapses from when the case ended, is possible only with the notarized authorization of the person the file was on or their relatives.

These rules were imposed through Order No. 375/584/352 from 25 July 2006, passed by the Ministry f Culture, the Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Security Service [FSB].

Memorial appealed to the Supreme Court in November 2010 asking that the following items of the Order be cancelled:

The part of Item 6 which states that persons other then the victim or members of their family can see the files before the 75 year period has elapsed only with the above-mentioned authorization;

Item 9 which states that documents containing information with personal data about people who were not the object of the investigation are not made available until the legally established time limit has elapsed.  This restriction can be waived if the copies of the documents remove the personal data.

Memorial argued that both these provisions violate the constitutionally guaranteed right of citizens to freely receive and circulate information and imposes restrictions on access to archival documents not envisaged by any federal law.  They cited the Law on Rehabilitation and Law on the Archives of the RF. .

They stressed also that the majority of documents on which the 2006 Order imposed restrictions did not contain any secrets protected by federal laws, and yet it removes access to researchers of the file in full this violating their right to receive information which is not classified by law. The Order imposed a ban on researchers reading a particular type of file. There are millions of such files in the archives for the victims of political repression.

From Memorial’s point of view classifying the fact of political repression as secret (State secret, personal, family, etc) and as events or circumstances of personal life contradicts the sense of rehabilitation which by definition involves the restoration of a person’s name and reputation which cannot be done in secret and is clearly a public process.

During the hearing Memorial’s appeal was responded to by representatives of the Ministry of Culture, of the Interior, the FSB and the Ministry of Justice. They recognized that the cases in question were part of the State Archives.  At the same time they all asserted that any document in such files contains information with personal and family secrets. The FSB representative particularly stressed that there was information in the files which if circulated could jeopardize citizens’ safety. They provided no proof of this assertion.

Memorial presented a book containing procedural documents, etc, in order to show that the documents did not contain information where access could be restricted in accordance with Article 25 of the Law on the Archives of the RF.  They also presented answers in writing from the Interior Ministry and the FSB refusing to provide information and allow access to archival files, citing the 2006 Order.

Despite this, the Supreme Court rejected Memorial’s application.  It intends to appeal against this judgment.

From a report by Nikita Petrov from Memorial

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