BERLIN (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday he was shocked at moves to shut down Memorial, a Russian human rights group, adding that the group was vital to Russian-German relations.

Memorial said on Thursday prosecutors had demanded the closure of its main offices over violations of a law targeting “foreign agents”, a move it said was politically motivated. The NGO started in the 1980s by documenting the crimes of the Stalinist era, but has since become more human rights-focused.

“Dealing with the past in an independent, critical and professional manner is also inestimably important for relations between Germany and Russia — particularly when it comes to the crimes Germans committed against people in the Soviet Union,” Maas said.

“The politically motivated persecution of critical civil society must end,” he added in a statement.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Paul Carrel)