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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s Supreme Court is hearing a petition Thursday to shut down one of the country’s oldest and most prominent human rights group, a move that elicited public outrage and is part of a months-long crackdown on activists, independent media and opposition supporters.

The Prosecutor General’s Office earlier this month petitioned the Supreme Court to revoke the legal status of Memorial — an international human rights group that rose to prominence for its studies of political repressions in the Soviet Union and currently encompasses more than 50 smaller groups in Russia and abroad.

Memorial was declared a “foreign agent” in 2016 — a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that can discredit the targeted organization. Prosecutors allege that the group repeatedly violated regulations obligating it to mark itself as a “foreign agent” and tried to conceal the designation.

Memorial and its supporters have maintained the accusations are politically motivated.

Pressure on the group has sparked public outrage, with many prominent figures speaking out in its support this month. As a hearing into the petition to shutter Memorial commenced on Thursday, large crowds gathered in front of the Supreme Court building in a show of support for the organization.

At least three people reportedly have been detained — among them two elderly women holding banners that read “Thank you, Memorial, for remembering us” and “You can’t kill the memory of the people.”

It remains unclear whether Memorial plans to continue working without being a legal entity, if the court rules to revoke its status, like several other rights groups in Russia have done following earlier crackdowns.

In recent months, the Russian government has designated a number of independent media outlets, journalists and human rights groups as “foreign agents.” At least two disbanded to avoid a tougher crackdown.

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The IOC’s Treatment of Missing Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai Is Disturbingly On-Brand

Last week, Human Rights Watch addressed a public letter to the International Olympic Committee, a kleptocracy that owns and operates the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, calling on the IOC to stop promoting “Chinese state propaganda” regarding tennis star Peng Shuai’s sexual-assault allegations against former People’s Republic of China Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, and subsequent disappearance.

“The IOC has vaulted itself from silence about Beijing’s abysmal human rights record to active collaboration with Chinese authorities in undermining freedom of speech and disregarding alleged sexual assault,” read the letter, quoting Yaqiu Wang, a policy researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The IOC appears to prize its relationship with a major human rights violator over the rights and safety of Olympic athletes.”

    There’s something bitterly funny about HRW shaming the IOC for promoting authoritarianism, because even a cursory reading of the history of the IOC is crystal clear on the matter: the IOC loves enabling authoritarianism. Can’t get enough of it. Telling the IOC to stop collaborating with violent, autocratic forces is like telling your dog to stop eating cat poop from the litter box. Sure, they might look at you with sad ol’ eyes for a second, but they’re just jonesing for another bite of that precious, delicious dung.

    For those unfamiliar with what’s transpired thus far: On Nov. 2, Peng Shuai, a 35-year-old Chinese tennis star who was the world’s No. 1 ranked doubles player in 2014, posted a missive to Weibo, the PRC’s state-controlled social media network. She claimed that in 2007, she was raped by Gaoli, a powerful member of the Communist Party, and that she was pressured into an on-again, off-again relationship with the politician until 2018. Shuai’s post was purged from Weibo by state censors, but the bird was out of the cage: her accusations spread across social channels like brushfire. Chinese state censors have gone so far as to scrub uses of Shuai’s name and even the word “tennis” from the platform.

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