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Moscow Helsinki Group: Russia's oldest human rights organisation told to close

The Moscow Helsinki Group's defence team in courtGetty Images

A court in Russia has ordered the country’s oldest human rights organisation to be closed down.

The Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) was founded in 1976 and reports annually on the human rights situation in Russia.

However, the authorities have now said it does not have the correct registration.

It is the latest in a series of closures targeting rights and opposition groups across Russia.

The ruling comes after the justice ministry filed a lawsuit seeking to liquidate the group in December, arguing that it was only registered to defend human rights in Moscow – not other parts of the country.

That’s despite the MHG having always worked with a wider scope.

The group called the measure “disproportionate” at the time and said it would continue to function “regardless of the wishes of the authorities”.

In a statement on Wednesday, MHG reported that its co-chair told the judge and justice ministry representatives that they were “committing a great sin” by closing it down.

“You are destroying the human rights movement, you are destroying it,” said Valery Borshov. “The liquidation of the group is a serious blow to the human rights movement not only in Russia but also the world.”

The lawsuit was based on the justice ministry’s ad hoc inspections of the MHG, which the group argued were illegal. It has said it will appeal the decision.

It’s not the first time MHG has been forced to cease its operations. It lasted only months after its launch in the 1970s before the government jailed or forced practically all its members into exile.

It was set up by a group of well known Soviet dissidents and named after the Helsinki accords, a wide-ranging international agreement signed by the USSR, which defended human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The group was revived in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

MHG has likened its treatment by the Russian authorities to that suffered by Memorial, another prominent human rights group, which was shut down in 2021.

Last year, Moscow courts liquidated several other rights groups, including the Journalists and Media Workers’ Union.

International human rights organisations have heavily criticised the Russian government for what they claim is a nationwide crackdown on independent journalism and dissenting voices that has intensified since its invasion of Ukraine.

That includes top opposition figures, the majority of whom are now either in prison or exiled.

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