Archive hunt. Former head of a “Memorial” human rights organisation branch in Russia accused of smuggling its documents abroad
Павел Васильев
Archive hunt. Former head of a “Memorial” human rights organisation branch in Russia accused of smuggling its documents abroad
21 May 2023, 8:10

Роберт Латыпов. Фото: личная страница в Facebook

The FSB has accused Robert Latypov, the erstwhile chief of “Memorial” human rights organisation in Perm, close to the Ural mountains in Russia, of trying to smuggle the organisation’s archived documents overseas. According to the secret service, experts have concluded that the documents are of cultural and historical value. Latypov, however, contends that these are merely administrative documents. Also implicated in the case is Aleksandr Chernyshov, chairman of the Historical Memory Centre. In the early hours of May 19, law enforcement conducted a series of searches, which included two members of the Presidential Human Rights Council. Here’s what we know about this case so far.

The FSB has opened a criminal case against Robert Latypov, former head of the Perm branch of Memorial, one of the oldest civil rights groups in Russia and a co-recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. Latypov and Alexander Chernyshov, chairman of the Center for Historical Memory, are suspected of attempted smuggling of cultural property. The pair stands accused of plotting to smuggle cultural assets—specifically, the archived documents of the organisation—from Russia to Germany.

Latypov explains that the contested papers pertain to the Perm Memorial’s internal document flow. “That is, these are orders, these are board meeting minutes, lists of participants, official correspondence, applications for grants,” the former head of the organisation explained to Mediazona. During a routine audit two years prior, Ministry of Justice officials closely scrutinised these documents, Latypov added.

In the summer of 2022, shortly following the Ministry of Justice’s mandated liquidation of the Perm “Memorial,” Latypov left Russia and currently resides in Germany. A few months post-liquidation, Latypov and his associates decided to organize the accumulated paperwork, documenting the organisation’s 30-year history. “What’s unnecessary should be removed,” Latypov said. “What is deemed necessary, important, and historically valuable for the ‘Memorial’ movement should be preserved.”

On March 10, several boxes containing documents were dispatched from Perm to Moscow via a standard freight company. “The cargo journeyed from one Russian city, Perm, to another, Moscow. Could someone kindly explain what is criminal or unusual about this?” Latypov asks, perplexed.

The FSB maintains that the expert analysis underpinning the criminal case has attributed cultural and historical importance to the documentation. In line with the ongoing smuggling investigation, security personnel executed a series of searches involving human rights activists from Perm and members of the “Memorial.” Specifically, they targeted Igor Averkiev and members of the Presidential Human Rights Council—Tatiana Margolina and Svetlana Makovetskaya. All of them are now witnesses in this case, says Averkiev.

According to him, the search “proceeded smoothly, without incidents, all conducted politely.” The officials confiscated mobile phones, computers, and hard drives. “Of the very bad things: they confiscated my personal archive with materials from the early 1980s—the activities of underground anti-Soviet organisations in Perm. records related to the Social Democratic Party of Russia, etc.,” complained Averkiev. “These are truly valuable items. They won’t aid them in the ‘Memorial’ case in any way, but if something were to vanish, that would indeed represent the loss of cultural treasures. I hope that won’t happen.”

Igor Sapko, the ombudsman in Perm, commented on the searches: “I am concerned and am keeping a close eye on it.”

The second person involved in the criminal case, Alexander Chernyshov, was under administrative detention in Moscow. On May 5, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail for a misdemeanor charge of “disorderly conduct.” He was scheduled to be released on May 20, but his colleagues reported that he did not leave the detention center on that day. In March, he had already been searched and questioned regarding Latypov’s departure from Russia.

The former head of Perm Memorial insists that Chernyshov had nothing to do with sending the archive from Perm to Moscow. According to Latypov, his colleague only helped volunteers collect documents, because the Historical Memory Center’s office is the former office of “Memorial.”

Latypov says the FSB’s accusation of attempting to smuggle documents out of Russia is merely an excuse to “trample on” the already-defunct organisation, “and possibly imprison someone else as well.” The charges that the special service used in the case does involve imprisonment. “And now, since the FSB has taken over all these documents, they want to turn this story into a big high-profile criminal case,” Latypov believes.

The Perm Memorial archive, which was sent from Perm to Moscow in early March, has never reached its destination. Latypov assumes that the boxes of papers were intercepted by the officials.

Editor: Dmitry Treschanin

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