Moscow: Russia`s most prominent human rights group Memorial on Saturday called a government legal assault on their organization an "insult."
Senior members of Memorial, which investigates everything from the Stalin-era Gulag to government death squads in Chechnya, said a justice ministry case against the organization`s coordinating body could seriously disrupt their work.
The Supreme Court is set to hear the case on November 13 in which the government seeks to liquidate Memorial`s umbrella organisation, overseeing dozens of human rights and research groups nationwide.
"The very existence of the case is an insult against people who have for the past 20 years been doing the work that the state should have done," Yan Rachinsky, a senior Memorial member, told AFP.
If prosecutors succeed, then many individual groups working under the Memorial name would "have to re-register," Rachinksy said.
That would essentially throw separate branches around the country into legal limbo, even if the most famous branch -- the Memorial human rights centre in Moscow -- would apparently escape for now.
Rachinsky`s colleague Oleg Orlov called the case "a shot across the bow."
"Further pressure can be expected," Orlov told AFP, adding that authorities could still move against the Moscow rights centre, seen as the group`s most prized asset.
Officially registered in 1992, Memorial is one of Russia`s oldest and most respected human rights organisations.
It gained prominence for chronicling the victims of communist repression, a painful subject that modern Russia has often been reluctant to address.
The group became an even bigger presence through its investigations of executions, kidnappings and other atrocities committed against civilians during Moscow`s wars, starting in the 1990s, to subdue Chechen separatists and Islamist militants.
In 2009, their researcher Natalya Estemirova, a specialist in investigating kidnappings by the security forces, was herself abducted by unidentified gunmen in the Chechen capital Grozny and later found shot dead.
The authorities have steadily clamped down on human rights organizations since the outbreak of huge street protests against the return of President Vladimir Putin for a third term in the Kremlin in 2012.
Memorial, along with other rights organisations, has been ordered to register itself as a "foreign agent" under a controversial 2012 law.
The legislation forced NGOs which carry out political activities and receive international funding to register and name themselves as "foreign agents" in all their documents -- a term laden with connotations of treachery and espionage.
Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which had been seen as a contender for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, said Friday it had received a reprimand from the state media watchdog.
The watchdog claimed one of the newspaper`s articles, penned by outspoken commentator Yulia Latynina, violated a law against extremism, Novaya Gazeta said.
Two reprimands within the space of a year give authorities legal grounds to shut down a media outlet.