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Russian court sentences human rights campaigner Oleg Orlov to 2.5 years in prison

by Martin Fornusek February 27, 2024 12:03 PM 2 min read
Oleg Orlov, Jan. 1, 2012. (Anna Artemeva/Novaya Gazeta via Wikimedia Commons)
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The Golovinsky Court of Moscow sentenced Oleg Orlov, one of the leaders of the Memorial human rights group, to two and a half years in prison for "discrediting the military," the Russian independent news outlet Meduza reported on Feb. 27.

The criminal case against Orlov was launched in 2023 after the human rights advocate published a translation of a French article called "They wanted fascism. They got it" on his Facebook.

The piece sharply criticized Russia's war against Ukraine and accused dictator Vladimir Putin's regime of leading Russia toward fascism.

The Golovinsky District Court of Moscow found Orlov guilty of "discrediting the military" in October 2023 and fined him 150,000 rubles ($1,633.50), but the prosecution appealed the verdict and demanded a prison sentence.

A new investigation was carried out in January, which concluded that Orlov's decision to publish the article was motivated by his alleged hostility "toward traditional Russian spiritual, moral, and patriotic values" and the hatred of the Russian military, which the article associates with genocide, murder, and destruction.

Orlov pleaded not guilty and told The Moscow Times that the request for a prison sentence was a "demand from the top."

"I do not plead guilty, and the accusation is not clear to me," he said. Orlov has refused to actively participate in the trial proceedings, demonstratively reading Franz Kafka's novel "The Trial."

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Russia criminalized statements or acts considered to be "discrediting" or spreading "unreliable information" about the military in March 2022, broadly seen as a means to crack down on domestic anti-war opposition.

Orlov, a 70-year-old civil activist and historian, has been a co-chair of Memorial for more than two decades. He was designated a "foreign agent" on Feb. 2.

The Memorial group's activities focused on researching crimes committed by the Soviet Union during the Stalinist era and on advocating for human rights in and around modern-day Russia.

The group's human rights wing was declared a "foreign agent" in 2014, and the label was extended to the organization as a whole by 2016.

A Russian court ordered the group's dissolution in December 2021, a process finalized in April 2022 amid a sweeping crackdown against civil society and domestic opposition. The group continues to operate abroad.

Memorial was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2022, alongside the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties and Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski.

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