Russian Regime Targets Human Rights Group, Nobel Laureate

Published: 22 March 2023

Memorial Premises MoscowPremises of the Memorial Society in Moscow, after investigators' thorough search. (Photo: Memorial Society/Twitter, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime continues to persecute those who dare to protest or condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including prominent Russian people and organizations, even those laurelled with the Nobel Prize.

After massive searches of the homes of members of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, Russian authorities launched Tuesday a criminal investigation against its co-chair, human rights activist Oleg Orlov, the organization reported on its Telegram channel.

The Memorial Society also claimed that authorities opened a case against the organization and some of its employees on March 3, accusing them of “rehabilitation of Nazism,” and “treason of the motherland.”

Early on Tuesday, according to Memorial Society, police simultaneously searched the organization’s premises, as well as homes of Memorial’s officials Yan Rachinsky, Oleg Orlov, Alexandra Polivanova and her mother, Nikita Petrov, Galina Jordanskaya, Alena Kozlova, Irina Ostrovskaya and Alexander Guryanov.

Some of the Memorial’s staff, including Oleg Orlov, Yan Rachinsky, Alexander Guryanov and Alexandra Polivanova, were taken to the Investigative Committee and interrogated.

Following the questioning, the Russian authorities launched a criminal case against Orlov, charging him for “repeatedly discrediting the Russian Army.” The case is based on the amendments made to the Russian Criminal law in March last year aimed at sanctioning everyone criticizing the Russian Army.

Orlov may face up to three years in prison if convicted.

The activist has been detained several times since Russia attacked Ukraine in February last year. He was fined 50,000 Russian rubles (US$650) after he published a poster saying “Crazy Putin is pushing the world into nuclear war,” according to human rights watchdog OVD-Info.

Two months later, he was fined the same amount for another poster, this time saying “USSR in 1945 defeated fascism. Russia in 2022 – a country defeated by fascism.” Orlov unfolded the poster at Moscow’s Red Square.

Memorial was established in the former Soviet Union in 1987 as a non-profit organization focused on documenting testimonials of the victims of Stalinist-era crimes.

Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov was among the founders of the Society and was its first honorary chair.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the organization continued to work “studying political repressions in the USSR and in present-day Russia and promoting moral and legal rehabilitation of persons subjected to political repressions.”

In 2016, Russian authorities designated Memorial as a “foreign agent,” but this did not deter its activists from criticizing the regime.

Five years later, in December 2021, the Russian Supreme Court declared that Memorial would be liquidated because it had protected the rights of those who were alleged to have links to terrorist groups.

The organization appealed, but as it criticized the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Appeal Board of the Supreme Court on February 28, 2022 only confirmed Memorial’s liquidation.

The same year, Memorial shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Kyiv-based Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) and Belarus human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, who was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison in a bogus case.