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Russia: Oleg Orlov trial is an abuse of legal system for political purposes, says UN expert

04 April 2024

GENEVA (4 April 2024) – Russian authorities must immediately drop all criminal charges against human rights defender Oleg Orlov and quash the unjust court ruling against him, a UN expert said today.

“Today, Oleg Orlov, a leading human rights defender and co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation “Memorial”, marks his 71st birthday behind bars as punishment for his vocal opposition to Russia’s war against Ukraine,” said Mariana Katzarova, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.

“Oleg Orlov’s health has been deteriorating since his imprisonment and Russian authorities must ensure he has adequate access to medical care,” Katzarova warned.

In February 2024, a Russian court sentenced the key human rights campaigner to two and a half years in prison for denouncing Russia’s war against Ukraine.

“In keeping Oleg Orlov behind bars, on charges that have no grounds in international law, the Russian authorities show everyone in Russia the instruments they are willing to use to silence peaceful dissenters and independent voices and demonstrate the ruthlessness with which the State authorities can retaliate,” the expert said.

Despite an international outcry, after the verdict was announced Orlov was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody. He launched an appeal on 12 March 2024, leading to his forced daily transport to court under harsh conditions, and rushed into reviewing case materials.

“The Golovinsky District Court in Moscow appears to be deliberately rushing the process, in order to issue a final verdict on his appeal, raising concerns about the presumption of innocence and the overall fairness of the legal proceedings,” Katzarova said.

The expert noted that Orlov’s right to defense is severely compromised, with the necessity for daily court appearances precluding consultation with his lawyer, while in-court interactions are heavily monitored and restricted, violating the principle of lawyer-client confidentiality.

“We must recognise these actions for what they are: a blatant politicisation of law enforcement and judicial processes to suppress the realisation of civil and political rights in Russia,” Katzarova said. 
“The international community stands in solidarity with Oleg Orlov and other silenced voices in Russia, advocating for their immediate release and the restoration of fundamental human rights and freedoms in the country.”

In a letter to the Russian Federation on 17 May 2023, Katzarova and other UN Special Rapporteurs, condemned the criminalisation of Oleg Orlov for his legitimate human rights work, the exercise of his freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Katzarova said that the harsh sentence imposed on Oleg Orlov for alleged “discreditation of the Russian army” (article 280.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) marks a significant escalation in the use of unlawful domestic legal norms and compromising of institutions for political purposes in Russia.

On the day Orlov was sentenced, the Special Rapporteur pointed out that his show trial was part of a broader strategy to crackdown on civic space. She had previously called for the abolition of the legal provisions under which Oleg Orlov was sentenced.

“The imprisonment of Oleg Orlov and the liquidation of "Memorial" by the Supreme Court, along with Orlov’s designation as a “foreign agent”, are indicative of the Government's systematic persecution of dissent, erosion of civic space, and severe punishment of any opposition to the war against Ukraine in the country,” Katzarova said.

Mariana Katzarova is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page – Russian Federation

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