Despite a continuing crackdown on dissent within Russia, the annual “Returning of the Names” event, organized by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, allowed Russians to pay tribute to the victims of Soviet state terror on Sunday (Source: US News).
Traditionally held in Moscow on October 29, the eve of Russia’s Remembrance Day for the Victims of Political Repression, the event focuses on reading out the names of individuals who lost their lives during Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror in the late 1930s. However, Moscow authorities have denied permits for the event since 2020, citing the “epidemiological situation” and a ban on public gatherings, although supporters of Memorial suspect political motivations behind the refusal.
Memorial, which was ordered to close by Moscow authorities in November 2021 but still operates in other countries, has continued some of its human rights activities in Russia.
In place of the traditional demonstration, Muscovites and several Western ambassadors gathered to lay flowers at the Solovetsky Stone, with a police presence observing the subdued event. Memorial organized a live broadcast of the reading of victims’ names, featuring participants from Moscow, other Russian cities, and abroad.
This year’s “Returning of the Names” coincides with Russian prosecutors seeking a three-year prison sentence for human rights campaigner and Memorial co-chair Oleg Orlov. Orlov was recently fined approximately $1,500 and convicted of publicly “discrediting” the Russian military due to a Facebook post denouncing the invasion of Ukraine, part of an ongoing crackdown on activists, independent journalists, and opposition figures.
Memorial announced that state prosecutors have appealed Orlov’s sentence, deeming it “excessively lenient.” They quoted the prosecutor as saying, “It’s obvious that Orlov needs isolation from society for his correction.”
A law enacted after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine criminalizes public “discrediting” of the military if repeated within a year. Orlov had previously been fined twice for anti-war protests before facing criminal charges.
Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent human rights organizations, was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize along with Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski and the Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties.
Founded in the Soviet Union in 1987, Memorial aims to ensure that victims of Communist Party repression are remembered and continue to document human rights abuses and monitor political prisoners’ fates in Russia.