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Court blocks exposure of fake experts in Russia’s attempt to dissolve Memorial Human Rights Centre as 'extremist'

Halya Coynash

Memorial HRC, Natalia Kryukova, Alexander Tarasov

Russia’s attempt to ban the Memorial Human Rights Centre is based on an ‘opinion’ by two individuals without any expert knowledge and with either no academic publications at all, or just three, and none in the relevant field.  Despite lack of qualification, clear evidence of plagiarism and much more, judge Mikhail Yurievich Kazakov from the Moscow City Court has refused to summon Natalia Kryukova and Alexander Tarasov to answer questions from Memorial’s lawyers.

The second preliminary hearing was heard on 29 November, with Kazakov deciding that there should be at least one more preliminary hearing, on 16 December, before substantive examination of the application lodged in early November 2021 by the Moscow prosecutor to have the Memorial Human Rights Centre dissolved.

Russia’s offensive is against both the Memorial Human Rights Centre and the International Memorial Society, with the application to have the latter dissolved lodged by the Prosecutor General and heard by Russia’s Supreme Court.  The Memorial Society is one of the oldest NGOs in Russia and has played an inestimable role in restoring the truth about the Soviet Union’s darkest pages, and in enabling the relatives of victims of the Terror to learn where they were arrested and killed. 

It is very possibly no accident that there are some crucial differences between the two lawsuits, and that it was initially only the attempt to dissolve International Memorial that was widely reported.  Both NGOs are accused of infringements of Russia’s notorious law on so-called ‘foreign agents’.  Russia used such infringements earlier to impose horrific fines which seemed clearly aimed at crushing the NGOs. The latter, however, survived, which is presumably the reason for this new attack. 

The infringements in question are trivial and, as the Human Rights Council under President Vladimir Putin immediately pointed out, in no way commensurate with the prosecutor’s demand for the NGOs’ dissolution.  The Council noted that over the past 14 months, the controlling bodies had not found any infringements with respect to International Memorial and only two minor infringements with respect to the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

With such an unconvincing pretext and in the fact of very considerable international attention, it is just possible that the law suit against International Memorial will again be withdrawn, as it was in 2014, or even, though this is harder to imagine, that it will fail. 

It is especially worrying that most attention is focused on the Supreme Court suit, since another, extremely dangerous, claim has been added to the attack on the Memorial Human Rights Centre and the court hearings have effectively been closed to the public.  On 29 November, Judge Kazakov also rejected applications from Memorial HRC’s lawyers, Ilya Novikov and Maria Eismont, to allow access to the press and public.  Use of the pandemic as excuse is weak, since the Supreme Court did keep the first hearing on 25 November open, and also provided a separate room with a screen for those unable to fit in the courtroom.

There is considerably more to hide in the attack on the Memorial Human Rights Centre, and it is vital that the hearings receive maximum publicity.  Memorial HRC is one of the main sources of information about and voices in defence of political prisoners in Russia and occupied Crimea.  It is this voice that the current regime wants to crush, and it is effectively claiming that the NGO’s recognition of law-abiding Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses or others as political prisoners ‘justifies’ the supposed ‘terrorism’ or ‘extremism’ with which the political prisoners are charged.

As reported, in its application to the Moscow City Court to have Memorial HRC dissolved, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office claimed that the NGO’s materials contain “elements of the justification of extremism and terrorism”.  

This accusation and, indeed, the case against Memorial HRC, appears to be based solely on an ‘opinion’ given by Natalia Nikolaevna Kryukova, a maths teacher and co-founder of the Centre for Socio-Cultural Expert Assessments ["Центр социокультурных экспертиз"] and Alexander Yevgenyevich Tarasov, a philologist and translator. The Centre has earned its very shady reputation through politically motivated ‘assessments’ written to fit the prosecution’s charges in the persecution of historian of the Soviet Terror Yury Dmitriev; the Jehovah’s Witnesses and, earlier, the Pussy Riot punk group.  The civic watchdog Dissernet has provided details about five dodgy assessments given by each of these two individuals, but the number is, in fact, much higher.   

In the case against Memorial HRC, Kryukova and Tarasova are supposed to have carried out a ‘psycholinguistic assessment’, although neither has any competence in this field.  After the hearing, Ilya Novikov and Maria Eismont provided more information about these dubious ‘experts’.  Novikov stressed that the prosecutor was not content with merely claiming various ‘infringements’ (of the law on ‘foreign agents’) but was asserting that Memorial HRC is ‘extremist’.  The lawyers had provided the court with answers received from an Academy of Sciences Commission on countering falsification in academic research and from a library source, with these making it clear that Kryukova has no academic achievements to her name, and the three publications which Tarasov can claim have absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of this latest ‘assessment’.

There is no explanation as to how the ‘assessment’ came about, with the prosecutor, when pushed, simply claiming that they ‘monitor the Internet’.  This hardly explains why, on 2 December 2020, the prosecutor asked for the particular ‘assessment’, including of the Memorial HRC’s Guidelines on the definition of a political prisoner’, and how this supposed ‘expert assessment’ was presented a day later, signed by both Kryukova and Tarasov.

One method by which two individuals who lack any expert knowledge can whip up an ‘expert assessment’ in a day is, of course, plagiarism.  Eismont has posted one example of where an excerpt from Kryukova-Tarasov’s ‘assessment’ was lifted straight out of a student’s dissertation.  This, she says, is not the only such plagiarised chunk found in the ‘assessment’, although these are not by any means the only problems with the two pseudo-experts’ ‘assessment’. 

The above provide, at very least, compelling grounds for summoning Kryukova and Tarasov and questioning them about their ‘assessment’, and it is very disturbing that judge Kazakov rejected all such applications.

For more details about Kryukova and Tarasov and quotes from the ‘assessment’, see:  Same notorious ‘experts’ used against Memorial as in Russia’s persecution of Yury Dmitriev, Pussy Riot & Jehovah’s Witnesses

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