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The Kremlin is shutting down the Sakharov Center, a cultural space dedicated to defending human rights and criticizing the invasion of Ukraine

Russia has decided to close the Sakharov Centre, the last bastion of freedom for Kremlin opponents, human rights defenders and critics of the military campaign in Ukraine. “In a land that is not free there can be no island of liberty. We live in a dictatorship,” Sergei Lukashevsky, who has been head of the exile center in Berlin since the beginning of the war, told the Efe news agency.

Founded seven years after the death of the Nobel Peace Prize winner (1989), the Sakharov Center hosts exhibitions, conferences, concerts, films and plays, the vast majority of which are independent. In addition, the two buildings house a library and two permanent exhibitions, one on the life of Sakharov and the other on the history of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union. The surrounding garden is dominated by a fragment of the Berlin Wall.

The center’s days are numbered since prosecutors decided to evict the historic facility because it posed a threat to the security and constitutional order of this country. “The accusation that we are undermining state security is ridiculous. What is happening is that since the Kremlin is terribly afraid of freedom of expression, we are a dangerous platform,” says Lukashevski, who was fined 3 million rubles (about $43,000) in absentia this Friday. Remember that over the years your space has brought together people who disagree with politics and the prevailing sentiment in Russia based on “xenophobia, chauvinism, suppression of human rights and disregard for human dignity”.

First up was the main Russian NGO, Memorial; Earlier this week to the oldest, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and now to the most influential. In this case, the apology is a new amendment that says foreign agents can’t get government funding either, which allowed Moscow City Council to terminate the lease and issue the eviction order.

The eviction, which adds to the 5 million rubles (more than $70,000) fine received by the organization in December, “is the first step towards liquidation,” according to the director. Although, like the other liquidated organizations that will continue to work, he admits that the activities of the Sakharov center are closely related to the building in which it is housed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “does not need civil society, that is, an independent voice denouncing human rights problems,” he says. “All the more so in conditions of war, where a multitude of questions can be asked. Is the war fair? What happens to the hostages in the occupied territories? What about the Ukrainian prisoners of war? The state does not want to answer with the truth,” he emphasizes.

Lukashevski believes that Russia has already crossed the red line and turned into a “typical personalist dictatorship”. “A regime based on violence, which controls society through fear, where there is no political change and a single person runs the state almost alone for more than 20 years, is a dictatorship,” he says. He considers that “in Russia it is practically impossible to take to the streets, there is no independent press, there is no freedom of expression or assembly, and the last sources of freedom have been eliminated”. (Efe)