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The dissolution of the historic Helsinki Group is another blow to human rights in Russia

In another blow of Vladimir Putin against voices critical of the regime, the Justice of Russia dissolved the Moscow Helsinki Group, the oldest human rights organization in the country and one of the most prestigious and emblematic.

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Gone are the times when Putin himself visited the former director of the organization, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, on her 90th birthday in 2017 and even brought her flowers: “I am very grateful for everything you have done for a great number of people in our country for so many years”he told her that time.

The NGO, founded in 1976, had been accused in December of undertaking activities outside Moscow, something that it was not allowed to do due to its regional status, an accusation that was considered “absurd” by its members during the express trial carried out on Wednesday.

“We do not deny their existence, but we do not consider that they are serious violations, since that is the usual practice of human rights organizations”the current director of the group, Svetlana Astrajántseva, told EFE, adding that they do not have subsidiaries in other cities, but that the activities outside Moscow consisted of controlling the transparency of some judicial processes, which is an inherent part of the Group’s work. Helsinki.

Lawyers and members of the Moscow Helsinki Group during the trial that took place on Wednesday in the Russian capital. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina (EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/)

Although the activists will appeal the decision, they know that as long as Putin or those close to him remain in power, the hopes of winning are almost nil and it is very likely that their office in the Russian capital will also be confiscated, as happened with Memorial, another human rights organization dissolved in 2021 and which won the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

Like these two groups, the Kremlin, under Vladimir Putin, has persecuted any type of dissent – the imprisonment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny is an example – and since the war in Ukraine has implemented laws that restrict any hint of criticism against the Army.

Last year it closed other NGOs and even the Union of Journalists and Media Workers, in addition to dozens of newspapers that have forced hundreds of journalists to flee the country.

Law against “foreign agents”

At the end of June 2021, the Duma (Lower House of the Russian Parliament) approved a new law that expanded the restrictions imposed by the regulations against foreign agents.

This law was created in 2012 in Russia to penalize entities that obtain financial, technical or organizational support from outside the country. In 2020, the legislature was expanded to include individuals who carry out any political activity and with the latest update -which has been in force since December- any person that the authorities consider to be under “foreign influence” is considered under this concept.

In the decade that the law has been in force, the government has sanctioned and prohibited the operations of different organizations that defend human rights and media that are uncomfortable for the Kremlin. For this, the imprecise definition behind the name of “foreign agent” has been fundamental.

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opponents of the government of Vladimir Putin describe the measure as a way to silence dissent, while the latest update would be aimed at silencing those who oppose the invasion of Ukraine.

On August 29, the undersecretary of the Russian Security Council, Alexandr Grebenkin, explained during an interview with the newspaper “Rossiskaya Gazeta” that so far this year “18 offices and representations of foreign and international non-governmental organizations were liquidated, and the activities of 13 organizations from the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Ukraine and other countries were declared undesirable with subsequent ban.

Also, seven non-profit organizations, 13 legal entities and 48 individuals were declared “foreign agents”he added.

Helsinki, a historic organization

The Helsinki Moscow Group was founded in 1976in Soviet times, by the hand of Andrei Sakharov, the creator of the hydrogen bomb and one of the most renowned fighters for human rights.

Its first objective was to promote the application in the USSR of the Helsinki Agreements (or Final Act of Helsinki), a pact reached in 1975 between East and West to reduce tensions during the Cold War. It was also dedicated to defending civil rights and democracy and since its creation the group produced annual reports on the situation of human rights in Russia.

However, shortly after its founding many of its members were imprisoned, persecuted and even expelled from the country. reason why the group had to suspend its operations in 1982.

Legendary Russian human rights defender and former director of the Helsinki Moscow Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, died in 2018 at the age of 91.  She was one of the few activists who was attended by Vladimir Putin himself.  (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Legendary Russian human rights defender and former director of the Helsinki Moscow Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, died in 2018 at the age of 91. She was one of the few activists who was attended by Vladimir Putin himself. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP, File) (Yuri Kochetkov/)

When perestroika began, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he returned to work thanks to the release of several political prisoners and the return to the country of many human rights activists, such as Ludmila Alexéyeva, considered the “Conscience of Russia”. ”, who returned to Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union to head said organization.

Although she participated in numerous opposition protests against the Kremlin, Alexéyeva was one of the few activists who was received by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her death in 2018 not only left the human rights movement an orphan, but also the group, one of the few that was never considered a foreign agent, since Alexéyeva renounced foreign funding ten years ago.

Source: Elcomercio

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