Rights veteran compares Russian justice to Nazis as court upholds his jail sentence

Court finds guilty rights campaigner Orlov of discrediting Russian army

By Mark Trevelyan and Lucy Papachristou

LONDON (Reuters) -Jailed human rights campaigner Oleg Orlov compared Russia's justice system to that of Nazi Germany on Thursday as a judge rejected his appeal against his two-and-a-half-year prison term.

Orlov, co-leader of the rights group Memorial that won a share of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, was found guilty in February of discrediting the Russian army after he protested against the Ukraine war and wrote an article accusing President Vladimir Putin of leading Russia into fascism.

"I have no remorse or regrets. I am in the right place at the right time," he told a packed courtroom in Moscow, speaking by video link from a detention centre in the city of Syzran, about 750 km (470 miles) to the southeast.

"When there is mass repression in the country, I am there alongside those who are persecuted," he said.

Like other dissidents including the late Alexei Navalny, Orlov has lost repeated battles with prosecutors and judges. But they and others have used their court appearances to deliver scathing indictments of Russia under Putin, which Orlov has compared to the totalitarian dystopia portrayed by George Orwell in his novel "1984".

Since launching his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Putin has intensified a crackdown on actual or perceived dissent as Russia wages what he casts as an existential battle with the West. This week a theatre director and playwright were jailed for six years each for a play which Russian authorities said had "justified terrorism".

The Kremlin says Russian courts uphold the law and it does not comment on individual cases.

In his final words to the court, Orlov quoted a prosecutor's speech from the Nuremberg trials of leading Nazis after World War Two and said the words applied equally to today's Russia: "They distorted, perverted and finally achieved the total destruction of justice and laws in the state."


Since his jailing, 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.

Defence lawyer Katerina Tetrukhina said the 71-year-old Orlov should be released immediately as the prosecution had failed to prove that he harboured "ideological hostility" towards Russia's "traditional values".

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."

Russian newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov - a fellow winner of the Nobel Peace Prize - and the U.S. and British ambassadors were among those in court to support Orlov, who was shown on screen speaking from behind bars. His supporters burst into loud applause when he finished his address.

Outside the court, Orlov's wife Tatiana Kasatkina told reporters the verdict was exactly as expected.

"I had a dream: What if it works and they reduce the sentence or something? But what had to happen, happened. That's why we will keep appealing," she said.

(Reporting and writing by Mark Trevelyan and Lucy Papachristou in London; editing by Mark Heinrich)