Russian human rights campaigner sentenced to jail for denouncing war

Co-chair of Nobel-prize winning human rights group Memorial praises Alexei Navalny in court

One of Russia’s longest-serving and most respected human rights campaigners, Oleg Orlov, has been sentenced to 2½ years in jail for denouncing the war in Ukraine.

Mr Orlov (70) has served for more than 20 years as one of the leaders of the Memorial Human Rights organisation which won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 a year after being banned in Russia.

He was accused by the Russian prosecutors of “discrediting” the Russian army in an opinion piece in French media in which he wrote that Russian troops were committing “mass murder” in Ukraine and that his country had “slipped back into totalitarianism”.

Mr Orlov has been an outspoken critic of the war in Ukraine and, back home, the war on dissent.


In his closing speech to the court, Mr Orlov maintained that he had committed no crime and regretted nothing, instead castigating the “totalitarian” and “fascist” Russian state.

Speaking to the judge and the prosecutor, Mr Orlov said: “Isn’t it scary to watch what our country, which you probably also love, is turning into? Isn’t it scary that in this absurdity, in this dystopia, maybe not only you and your children will have to live, but also, God forbid, your grandchildren?”

Russia’s supreme court ordered the closure of Memorial in 2021, in what many saw as a watershed moment in Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on independent thought.

Mr Orlov is part of a rare and devoted cadre of anti-war activists who have stayed behind in Russia, continuing to protest, post online, fundraise and organise opposition to Putin’s war against their neighbour.

“I made a decision a long time ago that I want to live and die in Russia, it’s my country,” Mr Orlov previously told the Guardian. “Even though it’s never been so bad.”

He now joins a small group of other prominent dissenters who have been imprisoned for speaking out against the war in Ukraine.

In his closing statement, Mr Orlov also praised Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who died in an Arctic prison this month.

“He was an amazing person, brave and honest, who, in conditions that were made incredibly harsh specifically for him, did not lose optimism and faith in the future of our country. Whatever the specific circumstances of his death might have been, this was a murder,” Mr Orlov said. — Guardian