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Russia must drop charges against Oleg Orlov, Nobel Prize-winning “Memorial” leader: UN expert

08 June 2023

GENEVA (8 June 2023) – A UN human rights expert today urged Russia to drop criminal charges against Oleg Orlov, a prominent human rights defender and one of the leaders of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation “Memorial”. Orlov is scheduled to appear before a Moscow court on 8 June on charges of “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”.

“Show trials of prominent figures, such as Orlov, are aimed at instilling fear, deterring the public from participating in peaceful protests and preventing people from voicing dissent,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation, Mariana Katzarova.

“In pursuing criminal charges against Oleg Orlov, the Russian authorities have turned the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on its head, criminalising public advocacy for peace and attempting to silence the voices of human rights defenders,” she said.

Oleg Orlov is one of Russia’s most prominent human rights defenders and co-chair of the Human Rights Defence Centre Memorial. Last year Memorial won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Special Rapporteur noted that the criminal charges against him carry a potential prison sentence of up to three years and are a direct result of Mr. Orlov’s condemnation of the armed attack by the Russian Federation on Ukraine.

“Orlov’s prosecution is part of a system-wide crackdown on the anti-war movement in the Russian Federation,” Katzarova said.

She reminded the Russian authorities of their obligations under international human rights law: “The authorities have a responsibility to foster an environment conducive to freedom of expression and to enable human rights activities.”

Reports indicate that at least 19,718 individuals have been arbitrarily detained and 584 individuals subjected to criminal prosecution in connection with peaceful protests since 24 February 2022.

UN experts have attempted to engage in dialogue with the Russian authorities to prevent the adoption of increasingly repressive administrative and criminal legislation, commonly referred to as the “fake war news” law. Adopted since February 2022 following the armed attack on Ukraine, this package of laws includes Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code, under which Mr. Orlov is charged.

In a letter to the Russian authorities dated 17 May 2023, the experts expressed concern about the criminal charges brought against Mr. Orlov and urged relevant authorities to “repeal all legislative provisions restricting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and suffocating civic space in the Russian Federation”. No response has yet been received.


Ms. Mariana Katzarova (Bulgaria) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation by the UN Human Rights Council on 4 April 2023. She officially assumed her function on 1 May 2023. Ms. Katzarova led the UN Human Rights Council mandated examination of the human rights situation in Belarus, in 2021-22. During the first 2 years of the armed conflict in Ukraine (in 2014-16), she led the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission team in Donbas as head of the regional office in Eastern Ukraine. For a decade she headed the Amnesty International investigations of human rights in Russia and the two Chechnya conflicts. With the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, she focused on the war in Bosnia and the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Ms. Katzarova founded RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War) in 2006 after working as a journalist and human rights investigator in the war zones of Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya. At RAW, she established the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award for women human rights defenders working in war and conflict zones. She was Advisor to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on combating human trafficking, and a senior advisor at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).

Endorsed by:Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;  Fabián Salvioli: Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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Alina Grigoras
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For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact

Maya Derouaz
([email protected]) and

Dharisha Indraguptha
([email protected]).

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