The co-chair of a Nobel-winning rights group in Russia gets 30 months in jail for criticizing war



A Moscow court on Tuesday sentenced a veteran human rights advocate who spoke out against the war in Ukraine to two years and six months in prison.

Oleg Orlov, 70, was convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army in an article he wrote denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. He has rejected the case against him as politically motivated, telling the court in his closing statement: “I don’t regret anything and I don’t repent anything.”

Orlov was handcuffed and taken directly into custody from the courtroom. His verdict concluded a retrial in which Orlov was earlier ordered to pay a fine. Underscoring how little tolerance President Vladimir Putin’s government has for criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, the prosecution had appealed, seeking a harsher punishment.

The prosecution claimed that Orlov, co-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, published the article motivated by hostility “against traditional Russian spiritual, moral and patriotic values” and hatred of the Russian military, independent Russian news outlet Mediazona said on Tuesday.

In a statement, Memorial called Orlov’s sentence “an attempt to drown out the voice of the human rights movement in Russia and any criticism of the state.” It vowed to continue its work.

Tuesday’s verdict drew a crowd of dozens of supporters including 18 Western diplomats, Mediazona reported.

“I am alarmed and concerned by today’s outcome. Oleg Orlov has personally fought for the rights of Russians for more than 45 years,” US Ambassador to Moscow Lynne Tracy said in a statement. “In previous times his efforts have been awarded at the highest levels. In today’s Russia he is being locked away for them.”

A court in Moscow in October 2023 had fined Orlov 150,000 rubles (about $1,500 at the time), a significantly milder punishment compared to the lengthy prison terms some other Russians have received for criticizing the war.

Both the defense and the prosecution appealed and a higher court voided the fine, sending the case back to the prosecutors. The new trial began earlier this month, another step in a yearslong, unrelenting crackdown on dissent in Russia that the Kremlin ratcheted up after sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

In his closing statement to the court on Monday, Orlov once again denounced the war in Ukraine.

Also on Tuesday, a court in Grozny, the capital of Russia’s largely Muslim Chechen Republic, sentenced a man to 3 1/2-year in prison for publicly burning a Quran in front of a mosque. Russian state news agency Tass reported that Nikita Zhuravel admitted he did so on the instructions of Ukrainian special services in return for payment.

In September last year, Chechnya’s authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov posted a video of his son appearing to beat Zhuravel in detention. Kadyrov praised his son for “defending his religion.”

Tuesday also marked the ninth anniversary of the killing of Boris Nemtsov, a top Russian opposition figure.

Nemtsov, 55, a former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked along the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge late at night on Feb. 27, 2015.

He was one of Russia’s most energetic and charismatic opposition figures, and his killing was a blow to Putin’s opponents, as was the death of another opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, in a penal colony on Feb. 16.

An officer in the security forces of Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader was sentenced to 20 years for firing the shots that killed Nemtsov. Four other men were sentenced to 11 to 19 years for their involvement.

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