Russian police target Nobel Prize-winning group in mass raids

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(Reuters) -Russian security forces raided the homes of former employees of the Nobel Prize-winning human rights group Memorial on Tuesday and took some of them in for questioning, the group said, in a move denounced by one opposition party as an assault on dissent.

Founded to document political repression in the Soviet Union, Memorial was officially banned in late 2021 after the authorities claimed it supported terrorism and extremism, charges that it called absurd.

Tuesday's raids were carried out after Russian investigators accused the now dissolved group of allegedly including the names of World War Two-era Nazi collaborators on their historical list of victims of political terror.

Police confiscated items and equipment carrying the Memorial logo, the group said, and took some of the employees in for interrogation.

"At present searches of some of the employees are continuing - lawyers are not allowed to see them," Memorial wrote on Telegram.

Memorial chairman Yan Rachinsky, who collected the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the group when it won in 2022, was also subject to a raid on his home, the group said.

The raids were condemned by rights groups internationally as well as what remains of Russia's domestic opposition.

"By raiding the homes of members of Memorial, the Russian authorities are continuing their witch hunt against human rights defenders and activists," Amnesty International's Russia Director Natalia Zviagina said in a statement.

Opposition party Yabloko said the raids were a "new step" in Russia's campaign of political repression.

"What happened is an example of the destructive battle against dissent in Russia," it said in a statement.

Since invading Ukraine in February 2022, President Vladimir Putin has accelerated Russia's drive to suppress dissenting voices, including independent media, non-governmental rights groups and political opponents.

Putin has his own Human Rights Council, a body that critics say has enabled him to pay lip service to civic freedoms while ramping up state oppression.

Last November, shortly before his annual meeting with the Council, he removed 10 of its members and brought in four new ones including a pro-war blogger-correspondent.

(Reporting by Caleb Davis; Editing by Gareth Jones and Bill Berkrot)