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U.S. condemns Russia for closing human rights group

U.S. condemns Russia for closing human rights group
Russian policemen detain a supporter of Memorial International outside the Russian Supreme Court during a hearing on Dec. 28. The Supreme Court of Russia decided to liquidate the international historical and educational society, which the Russian authorities consider a foreign agent. Photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE

Dec. 31 (UPI) -- The United States issued a joint statement with several ally nations Friday rebuking a Russian court's decision to "forcibly close" the human rights group International Memorial.

The statement, issued by the office of State Department spokesman Ned Price, was made by the governments of the U.S., Australia, Canada, the European Union, and Britain in reaction to Russia shuttering Memorial International on Tuesday.

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Russia's Supreme Court had determined that Memorial International, the prominent human rights organization founded in Moscow in 1992 and known for chronicling the historical atrocities of the former Soviet Union, was guilty of failing to register as a foreign agent despite receiving foreign donations, according to Russian news agency TASS.

In the statement, Price said the nations "deplore" the decisions to forcibly close International Memorial and the Memorial HumanRights Center.

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"For more than three decades, Memorial has fulfilled a unique role in documenting historical crimes and recovering for posterity the memory of the tens of millions of victims of political repression in the country," the statement reads.

"Memorial has also advocated tirelessly for the protection of human rights in Russia, exposing appalling abuses, including in the North Caucasus, and maintaining a growing list of individuals it considers to be political prisoners."

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The joint statement said that the nations "cannot" accept the claim by Russian authorities that Memorial Human Rights Center's work"justifies extremism and terrorism."

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"Memorial's work has never been more needed," the statement reads.

Price noted that the "unconscionable decision to silence Memorial" comes on the heels of "deepening and systematic repression in Russia "against human rights defenders, journalists, political opposition members, "as well as religious minority groups and other marginalized groups."

"This further harms Russia's international reputation, as respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law constitute one of the foundations of the rules-based international order," the statement reads.

The U.S., which has similar rules known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, said the countries condemn the Russian legislation on "foreign agents" for silencing "independent voices."

"The people of Russia, like people everywhere, have the right to freedom of expression and association, including in defense of their human rights and fundamental freedoms," the statement reads.

The Kremlin argued during the court proceedings that Memorial misrepresents Soviet history, according to a statement from the organization's board of directors.

"The decision of the Supreme Court has once again confirmed that the history of political terror, organized and directed by the state power, remains for Russia not an academic subject that is of interest only to specialists, but a sharp problem of modernity," the statement reads. "Our country needs an honest and fair understanding of the Soviet past; this is the key to its future."

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