Russia court rejects appeal by jailed rights advocate Oleg Orlov

Co-chair of Nobel Prize-winning Memorial group says he has ‘no regrets’, compares Russian justice with Nazi Germany.

Oleg Orlov, a Russian human rights campaigner, has lost an appeal against his imprisonment for criticising the war in Ukraine.

A judge at the Moscow city court hearing on Thursday ruled that Orlov’s two and a half year sentence, handed down in February, should remain “unchanged”.

Orlov, the 71-year-old co-chair of the now-banned rights group Memorial, which was among the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, was convicted of discrediting the Russian army after he slammed the war in an article for French media, accusing President Vladimir Putin of leading the country into fascism.

Speaking via videolink from prison in the central city of Syzran, about 750km (470 miles) from the capital, Orlov told the packed courtroom that he had “no remorse or regrets”.

“I am in the right place at the right time,” he said.

“When there is mass repression in the country, I am there alongside those who are persecuted, and in this way, I help,” Orlov said, before the sound was cut from his video feed.

Earlier, Orlov quoted a passage from a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials against Nazi German war criminals to describe Russia’s judicial system.

“They distorted, perverted and in the end achieved the total destruction of justice and law. They made the judicial system an integral part of the dictatorship,” he told the court.

“These words can be uttered now by any Russian political prisoner,” he said.

A court had ruled that Orlov discredited the Russian armed forces – a crime under strict military censorship laws – in a column written for French news outlet Mediapart, accusing it of having descended into a “fascist” state and pointing to the “mass” killing of civilians in Ukraine.

The Kremlin denies targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation”.

Orlov’s lawyer, Katerina Tetrukhina, had argued that he should be released immediately, saying the prosecution had failed to prove that he harboured “ideological hostility” towards Russia’s “traditional values”.

“Oleg Petrovich Orlov did not harm a single person,” Tetrukhina said. “An elderly man with no previous convictions should not be deprived of his freedom and torn away from his wife, who needs him by her side, for peacefully expressing an opinion.”

His supporters have expressed concern about the state of his health, and his defence team has filed complaints saying that the conditions of his detention and transportation amount to cruel and degrading treatment.

Orlov is an instrumental figure in Memorial, a key pillar of Russian civil society, which has campaigned against rights abuses in modern Russia, with a particular focus on the volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia disbanded the organisation in late 2021, amid an accelerating crackdown against dissenters, opposition groups, independent media and NGOs.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies