The court order closing down Russia’s oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), is “yet another blow to human rights and civic space in the country”, said a Spokesperson for the UN rights office, OHCHR on Thursday.
Maria Hurtado said in a statement that the judgement was just the latest “in a series of actions against civil society”, journalists, other media and opposition groups and human rights defenders.
MHG was founded in 1976 by well-known dissidents and reported on human rights violations in the former Soviet Union (USSR) and later the Russian Federation, she noted. It’s named after the Helsinki accords, an international agreement signed by the Soviet Government which defended rights and fundamental freedoms.
Justice ministry intervention
Its closure was based on a Justice Ministry lawsuit alleging the organization was only registered to defend human rights in Moscow, and not in other parts of the country, arguing that it therefore lacked the correct registration.
According to news reports, MHG had always had a wider remit, and the group hit back at the ruling saying it would appeal, calling the measure “disproportionate” and vowing to continue with its work.
The lawsuit against MHG was based on an inspection by the Justice ministry last year, which the group says was illegal.
“This nationwide crackdown on independent journalism and dissenting voices has intensified since the Russian Federation’s armed attack on Ukraine”, said Ms. Hurtado.
She added that any restrictions to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of association – core rights in democratic societies – “must conform to the strict tests of necessity and proportionality in the pursuit of a legitimate purpose.”
Stop gagging reporters
Russian authorities should refrain from moving to close the organization down or from “stifling reporting” on serious issues of legitimate public interest.
She said it was incumbent on the Government to “allow debate of diverse and plural voices, within society and in the media, in line with its human rights obligations.”