Russia Fines Oleg Orlov, Veteran Human Rights Activist

A Russian court has fined Oleg Orlov, a veteran human rights advocate and co-chair of Memorial Society, Russia's most recognized and oldest human rights organization, for repeatedly denouncing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Memorial received the Nobel Prize last year.

Oleg Orlov MemorialRussian human rights activist Oleg Orlov fined for criticizing the regime in Moscow. (Photo: Анна Артемьева, "Новая Газета", Wikimedia, License)While the prosecution sought a punishment of 250,000 (US$2,559) rubles, Moscow’s Golovinsky District Court imposed a fine of 150,000 rubles ($1.535), as reported by Russian independent human rights media project, OVD-Info.

Although the accusations entail a maximum sentence of five years in jail, the court considered the age of the 70-year-old defendant and the testimony of his supporters.

“His prosecution and verdict are a mockery of the rule of law and a stark example of the government’s misuse of the judicial system to retaliate against critics,” said Tanya Lokshina, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for Europe and Central Asia, in a statement.

She mentioned her years of collaboration with Orlov in various crisis zones in Russia and beyond, highlighting his resilience even after his organization was shut down by the Russian authorities, which did not deter him despite personal risks.

“Nor would he yield to pressure from friends and colleagues to leave Russia in an attempt to avoid criminal prosecution and near-certain conviction. He would not stop holding the Kremlin accountable when Russia adopted draconian war censorship legislation following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” the statement read.

According to Memorial, the prosecutor has also requested a mental health evaluation, attributing his actions to a "heightened sense of justice, lack of self-preservation instincts, and posturing before citizens."

Orlov was arrested in May this year and indicted on charges of discrediting the Russian armed forces, including statements he made in an article last year where he described Putin's Russia as descending into fascism.

Before the court, Orlov used his final remarks to recall numerous political prisoners across Russia and express his view of the country's current situation, which he likened to George Orwell's dystopian classic, "1984," according to Memorial.

The organization was founded in the former Soviet Union in 1987 as a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the testimonies of victims of Stalinist-era crimes, with Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov among the founders and the organization’s first honorary chair.

In April 2022, less than two months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities dissolved the group, which had been declared a “foreign agent” in 2016. This move was widely seen as "politically motivated."

Memorial shared the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for Peace with the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) and Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, who was earlier convicted to ten years in jail in a controversial case.