The Moscow City Court yesterday ordered the dissolution of the Sakharov Center, a museum and cultural center in the Russian capital that, since the end of the USSR, has been one of the benchmarks in the defense of human rights. It is the last organization critical of the Kremlin or defender of rights that has had to close its doors forced by the Russian authorities in recent years and, more significantly, after the start of the military intervention in Ukraine.
In the spring, the Moscow City Council ordered the Sakharov Center to vacate its historic premises. The Moscow authorities, owners of the property, had to apply the new law on foreign agents approved in December 2022, which prohibits any public administration from helping an organization qualified as a foreign agent. The Sakharov Center was declared as such in 2014.
The municipal court yesterday accepted the lawsuit brought by Russia's Ministry of Justice, which alleged that the Sakharov Center had breached its own statutes by organizing activities such as conferences and exhibitions in a different regional demarcation than where it was registered, i.e. Moscow.
It is at least the third time that the Russian authorities have used this resource to liquidate an association known for its critical stance against official Moscow policy. In January, the same court dissolved the Helsinki-Moscow Group, the oldest human rights organization in Russia, founded in 1976, still during the USSR. In April, the Sova Center, specialized in the study of racism and xenophobia, had to dissolve in the same way.
Likewise, the courts have been the instrument to put an end to emblematic organizations for human rights in Russia. At the end of 2021, they liquidated by judicial decision the most well-known of all, Memorial, paradigm of the fight for human rights and the memory of the victims of Stalinist repressions, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.
The Sakharov Center was created in 1990 at the initiative of Elena Bonner, wife of Andrei Sakharov, to preserve the legacy of this nuclear physicist who played a prominent role in the development of the hydrogen bomb but who over the years adopt an anti-militarist position, becoming the most well-known of the Soviet dissidents. In 1973 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which he could not collect because he was forbidden to leave the USSR. In the eighties he was sentenced to internal exile in the city of Gorky (today Nizhny Novgorod). Released by Mikhail Gorbachev, he promoted the creation of the first independent and legal political organizations in the USSR. The European Parliament created the Sakharov Prize to honor groups and individuals who dedicate their lives to the defense of human rights in 1988, a year before his death.