Russia's Supreme Court ordered the country's oldest human rights group to disband on Tuesday for breaking a law requiring it to act as "a foreign agent," capping a year of crackdowns on Kremlin critics unseen since the Soviet era.
The closure of Memorial International bookmarks a year in which Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin's top critic, was jailed, his movement banned and many of his allies forced to flee.
Moscow says it is simply enforcing laws to thwart extremism and shield the country from what it says is malign foreign influence. Critics say that Vladimir Putin, in power as president or prime minister since 1999, is turning back the clock to the Soviet era when there was zero tolerance of dissent.
The Kremlin, at odds with the West on everything from Ukraine to Syria, says it is impossible to recreate the Soviet Union.
The legal assault on Memorial, which documents and keeps alive the memory of Josef Stalin's 1937-38 "Great Terror" among other episodes, is an attempt to whitewash Soviet Russia's darkest chapters which do not align with the Kremlin's narrative of a resurgent country with nothing to be ashamed of, they say.
The audience chanted "Shame! Shame!" after the verdict was read. Memorial Lawyer Genri Reznik spoke to Reuters.
"We disagree with the decision. We think it's illegal and unjustified. The claim was insolvent. But, these kinds of cases have a powerful political motivation."
As the court heard the case against Memorial, which said it was a force for good even if it sometimes made minor bureaucratic errors, four policemen carried away a bearded protester after he shouted: "There are no laws, there is no private ownership."
A state prosecutor told the court that Memorial had promoted what he called a false image of the USSR as "a terrorist state" and blackened the memory of the communist state's behavior during World War Two.
He said "someone" was paying Memorial for such treachery.
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday condemned the Russian court decision.