Russian main freedom of religion monitoring group to be disbanded

A Moscow court upholds the liquidation of the SOVA Center for committing “gross and irreparable violations” of the Public Associations law.

Evangelical Focus

Forum 18 News · MOSCOW · 28 AUGUST 2023 · 13:20 CET

A court in Moscow.  / <a target="_blank" href="">Krassotkin</a>, Wikimedia commons.,
A court in Moscow. / Krassotkin, Wikimedia commons.

The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, Russia's leading freedom of religion and belief monitoring group, is to be disbanded after an appeal judge in Moscow upheld the liquidation order imposed by a lower court last April.

On 17 August, the First Appeal Court of General Jurisdiction endorsed the position of the department of justice, which claimed that SOVA had committed “gross and irreparable violations” of the Public Associations law and its own statutes by holding in events outside the city of Moscow.

SOVA's director Aleksandr Verkhovsky, denounced the the “obvious and extreme selectivity” of the Justice Department's claims against human rights groups such as the Moscow Helsinki Group or the Sakharov Centre, “but not to hundreds of others”.

Furthermore, the bulk of SOVA work remains in Moscow, so that "a ban on any activity or appearances outside the region of registration seems to be absurd literalism in understanding Article 14 of the Public Associations law”, they explained.

SOVA will appeal further at the cassational level, but that will not affect the liquidation in the short term, because the ruling came into effect as soon as the appeal judge issued his decision on 17 August.


New “Community of researchers”

SOVA does not intend to stop its work, despite losing its formal status as a registered legal entity, because they “are confident that the work we have carried out within this organisation has contributed to the public good and should be continued”.

“That is why we have decided to function as a community of researchers under the name of SOVA Research Center. The results of this work will be available on the website, as well as in our Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram accounts”, it added.


More human rights groups forcibly closed

The SOVA Center is not the only Russian human rights group that have recent experienced harassment and closure by state authorities, specially since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In December 2021, the International Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Centre, both part of one of Russia's longest-established human rights movements, were dissolved.

The country's oldest human rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group, was also liquidated by Moscow City Court on 25 January 2023.

On 19 August 2023, the judge who ordered SOVA's liquidation made the same ruling against the Sakharov Centre, a human rights centre in Moscow named afte the Soviet-era physicist and human rights defender Andrei Sakharov.

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