Human rights defender Oleg Orlov jailed for denouncing the war in Ukraine

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Alexander Nemenov / AFP

Oleg Orlov, co-chairman of the Russian human rights NGO Memorial, was sentenced, on 27 February 2024, to two and a half years in prison for denouncing the war in Ukraine. Just a few days after the death in custody of the dissident Alexeï Navalny, and three weeks before the presidential elections, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) considers that the signal sent to Russian society and the international community by the authorities is frightening. Memorial, a member organisation of FIDH, was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

Paris, 27 February 2024. Oleg Orlov could have left the country, but he chose to stay in Russia. Throughout his trial, he was neither placed under house arrest nor incarcerated. At 70, he saw no reason to flee, as he was not guilty of anything. This did not prevent him from being imprisoned today at the end of an unfair trial. Proof that he was perfectly aware of the danger he faced, Oleg Orlov attended his trial sessions with a book under his arm: The Trial, by Franz Kafka.

FIDH has learned that for the first few months of his detention, Oleg Orlov will be held in detention center No. 7, located in the east of Moscow. His lawyer has expressed his intention to appeal against the judgment.

"Oleg’s courage is an inspiration to all human rights defenders in Russia and around the world. It shows once again that Putin’s government is afraid of truth and honesty. A man has been sentenced for saying what is obvious: the war in Ukraine is unjust and wrong. FIDH is supportive and concerned. Our thoughts are with his fellow activists: we urge you to be cautious", declared Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH.

The NGO Memorial is one of 188 human rights organisations that are members of FIDH. It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 along with two other members: Ales Bialiacki from Viasna in Belarus and the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) in Ukraine.

An absurd trial and an outrageous sentence

On 11 October 2023, the Golovinsky district court in Moscow found Oleg Orlov guilty of "public actions aimed at discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation" and fined him 150,000 roubles (around €1,409). The prosecutor’s office subsequently appealed. The Russian courts then decided to initiate new proceedings. As a result, the fine was changed to prison time. Oleg Orlov remained silent during his trial, saving his statements for the very end. FIDH is publishing his latest text here.

The accusation against Oleg Orlov is based on an article he wrote and published on the French blog platform Le Club de Mediapart on 13 November 2022: "Russia: they wanted fascism, they got it".

"When I see a seventy-year-old man being handcuffed because he dared to write words condemning the war, it brings tears to my eyes", said Natalia Morozova, acting head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe desk. "In addition to the atrocious conditions of detention in Russian prisons and penal colonies, the authorities have a habit of adding whimsical sentences to prevent opponents from being released. A few days after the death of Alexeï Navalny, three weeks before the presidential elections, Putin and his regime are trying to silence us. They won’t succeed. If they think they’re scaring us, they’re wrong".

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