Jailed human rights campaigner denounces mass repression across Russia before court hearing feed cut off

Oleg Orlov during his trial in February   (AP)
Oleg Orlov during his trial in February (AP)

The jailed co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, Oleg Orlov, hit out at the “mass repression” in Russia during a court hearing – before the sound on his video feed was cut.

Mr Orlov, 71, was found guilty in February of discrediting the Russian army after he protested against the war and wrote an article accusing Russian president Vladimir Putin of leading the country into fascism. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, losing an appeal against that sentence on Thursday.

The case has been condemned by the West as being part of a increasing crackdown on dissent as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine moves through a third year. Discrediting the Russian military is a criminal offence under a law adopted after the invasion began in February 2022. Thousands of people have been arrested or fines, with Kremlin critics often handed harsh prison sentences.

But Mr Orlov was unbowed during the hearing. “I have no remorse or regrets. I am in the right place at the right time,” he told the packed courtroom in Moscow from a detention centre about 470 miles away.

“And I will speak without questions. I am not distracted by anything, and I regret nothing. I am in the right place at the right time. When there are mass repressions in the country, I am beside those who are persecuted, and by doing so, I help...” Mr Orlov continued before his sound was cut off and he was unable to finish.

In his final words to the court, Mr Orlov paraphrased from speeches made at the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War. Russia had "distorted, perverted, and finally achieved the total destruction of justice and law in the state," Mr Orlov said.

Among those in the courtroom, for the start of his appeal hearing, were Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov, former commissioner for human rights, Vladimir Lukin, dissident Vyacheslav Bakhmin, human rights activists Svetlana Gannushkina and Yan Rachinsky and embassy representatives, Memorial reported.

Oleg Orlov before he was put in prison (AP)
Oleg Orlov before he was put in prison (AP)

Mr Orlov’s supporters have voiced 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.

The human rights campaigner was initially fined 150,000 Roubles () for the article he wrote entitled: “They wanted fascism. They got it.” But prosecutors swiftly rejected the sentencing, arguing it was not sufficiently severe before ordering a retrial which landed him in jail.

Mr Orlov linked the retrial to other efforts by Russian authorities that collectively were forcing the country “deeper and deeper into this darkness”, including the crackdown on Russia’s LGBT+ movement and the banning of certain books that carried any link to criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Memorial, one of the oldest and the most renowned Russian rights organisations, shared the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for its “outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and the abuse of power”.

Reuters contributed to this report