Russia's oldest human rights group fights "foreign agent" tag

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russia's oldest human rights group went to court on Friday to try to stop state prosecutors forcing it to register as a "foreign agent" under a law it says is intended by President Vladimir Putin to silence dissent.

Memorial, which has fought political repression since Soviet times, refuses to comply with the law which critics describe as a crude attempt to reassert Putin's authority after tens of thousands called for him to quit during protests last year.

The law obliges foreign-funded non-governmental organisations involved in "political activities" to operate under a label which has echoes of the Cold War and overtones of treason. Memorial says it also helps the state tighten controls.

"We're not sitting and waiting. We're staging a counter-attack,"

Memorial's head, Alexander Cherkasov, said."They're taking us back to the ideas of the (Soviet) past. It's a sign of madness."

Inspired by Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and five others' wish to create a monument to remember the victims of dictator Josef Stalin's repression,

Memorial started work in 1987 as the Soviet Union opened up under Mikhail Gorbachev.

Its initial goal was to document the Communist totalitarian past, but it developed quickly into a human rights organisation and criticised the detention of anti-Putin protesters last year at a rally that turned violent.