By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) – A Russian court’s order to close down the country’s oldest human rights organization is "yet another blow to human rights and civic space,” the UN Human Rights Office said Thursday.
The Moscow Helsinki Group was founded in 1976 and reported on human rights violations in the Soviet Union (USSR) and later the Russian Federation.
"The judgment is the latest in a series of actions against civil society and media organizations, journalists, opposition groups and human rights defenders, among others," said UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Marta Hurtado.
"This nationwide crackdown on independent journalism and dissenting voices has intensified since the Russian Federation's armed attack on Ukraine."
The closure was based on a Justice Ministry lawsuit alleging that the organization was only registered to defend human rights in Moscow and not in other parts of the country.
Hurtado said the UN Human Rights Office understands that the order, which has not yet entered into force, will be appealed.
"Any restrictions to the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of association – which are core rights in democratic societies – must conform to the strict tests of necessity and proportionality in the pursuit of a legitimate purpose," said Hurtado.
"Russian authorities should refrain from applying measures which stifle reporting on serious issues of legitimate public interest and allow debate of diverse and plural voices within society and in the media in line with its human rights obligations."
The Moscow City Court on Wednesday ordered the Moscow Helsinki Group to close down.
The case filed by the Justice Ministry in December accused the group of carrying out its activities throughout Russia in violation of its charter, which only allows regional activities for a regional human rights group.
The ministry conducted several unannounced inspections to prove its claims.
The Moscow Attorney's Office supported the ministry, saying the results of the inspections were "objective" and that the violations committed by the group could not be corrected.
The group's representative told the court that closing it amounts to destroying "a unique social phenomenon."