Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled the country’s best-known human rights group, Memorial, must be liquidated for breaking a law requiring groups to register as foreign agents, the RIA news agency reports.
The move on Tuesday caps a year of crackdowns on opposition movements and rights groups, which has also seen the top Kremlin critic jailed, his political movement banned and many of his allies flee the country.
Moscow says it is simply enforcing laws to thwart extremism and shield the country from foreign influence.
The Interfax news agency quoted a lawyer for Memorial – which has said the lawsuit was politically motivated – as saying that it would appeal, both in Russia and at the European Court of Human Rights.
Established by prominent dissidents in the final years of the Soviet Union, Memorial initially focused on documenting the crimes of the Stalinist era, and has more recently spoken out against repression of critics under President Vladimir Putin.
The authorities placed the group on an official list of “foreign agents” in 2015, a move that entailed numerous restrictions on its activities.
Last month, prosecutors accused the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Centre and Memorial International, its parent structure, of violating the foreign agent law, asking the court to shut them down.
Prosecutors have said in particular that Memorial International breached the regulations by not marking all its publications, including social media posts, with the label as required by law.
They also accused the Moscow-based centre of condoning terrorism and extremism.
Speaking at the final hearing on Tuesday, a state prosecutor said Memorial had organised large-scale media campaigns aimed at discrediting the Russian authorities, according to the TASS news agency.
The group has denied any serious violations and called the lawsuits a political decision. It has said its members would continue their work even if it is dissolved.
Putin also said this month Memorial had defended organisations that Russia considered extremist and terrorist, and its list of victims of political repression had included Nazi collaborators.
Much of Memorial’s work has focused on repressions carried out by Soviet state security bodies, including the KGB where Putin once served as a spy abroad.