It would not have happened often that the help of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate was enlisted in a criminal case. Co-chairman Oleg Orlov of the now banned human rights organization Memorial asked for it in Moscow on Thursday and got his way.
Orlov is on trial for criticizing the “special military operation,” as the Kremlin still euphemistically calls the invasion of Ukraine. For that, he could receive a prison sentence of up to five years. The prosecution specifically charges Orlov with an opinion piece on the French online news site Mediapart. It was titled, “They Wanted Fascism, They Got It.”
In the article, which he later posted on Facebook, Orlov argued that the struggle in Ukraine is not only costing many lives and destroying infrastructure, economy and cultural objects, but also dealing a heavy blow to the future of Russia itself. “The country left communist totalitarianism thirty years ago, fell back into totalitarianism, but now it is fascist,” Orlov wrote.
It was striking that Orlov asked permission from the judge for the presence of Dmitri Muratov at the first day of the trial. He is editor-in-chief of the now banned opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.
Charge based on linguistic analysis
According to Orlov, the charge against him is based on a linguistic analysis of his article. Because Muratov has a linguistic background, Orlov was eager to include the journalist as a member of his defense team. The judge allowed it.
According to the prosecutor, Orlov, who was fined twice last year for criticizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, had ‘criminal intent’ with his article for Medipart.
Orlov said he was not guilty, and that he did not understand how he could be held responsible for an opinion. If we believe the Russian state, the invasion of Ukraine must serve Russia’s peace and security, Orlov argued. “But I think it was done against the interests of Russia and its citizens.” He felt that the investigation against him has not proven that these interests have been respected.
The verdict will be guilty, no one doubts it
On the eve of the trial, Orlov told the AFP news agency that the allegations against him were “idiot accusations”. He said he stood by his words but had no illusions about the outcome of the trial. Some may say to themselves that it is better to remain silent. But my whole past life and my position assured me that wouldn’t be the case,” Orlov said. “The verdict will be guilty, no one doubts that.”
Nevertheless, the human rights activist was cheerful before the start of the trial. “Everything will be fine,” said Orlov, raising his fist in defiance. He showed the book published earlier this year by the Russian journalist and researcher Aleksandr Baonov about the fall of the European dictatorships.
Orlov’s organization Memorial is one of the oldest and most respected human rights organizations in Russia. Since its foundation in the late 1980s, the movement has been researching and documenting the Stalin repression. Memorial’s international branch has been campaigning for years against human rights violations in Russia under President Vladimir Putin.
At the end of 2021, the Russian court decided to dissolve Memorial, just months before Putin sent his troops into Ukraine.
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