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Memorial human rights leader Oleg Orlov sentenced to prison

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MOSCOW — Prominent Russian activist Oleg Orlov, a leader of the Memorial human rights organization that jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison Tuesday for denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Orlov, 70, a veteran human rights campaigner who worked as a hostage negotiator during the First Chechen War in the 1990s, was initially fined $1,630 for “discrediting the armed forces” for an article in which he branded Russia a “fascist” regime and said that the army was committing “mass murder.” When he appealed the ruling, a Moscow court slapped him with a more severe sentence.

The new penalty comes amid an expanding crackdown on Russia’s pro-democracy activists and the death of the country’s most prominent one, Alexei Navalny, who died suddenly earlier this month in an Arctic prison colony. Navalny’s spokeswoman said Tuesday that no venue would agree to host the activist’s funeral this week.

Navalny’s lawyer, Vasily Dubkov, was briefly detained by police Tuesday evening, the Vyorstka news outlet reported. The reasons for his detention remain unclear.

Hundreds of people were arrested last week for laying flowers at memorials for Navalny that sprung up across the country. On Tuesday morning, police detained several Muscovites days after they laid flowers at a memorial as they were leaving their homes for work.

For many young Russians, dreams of democracy died with Alexei Navalny

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Orlov’s sentencing is the latest example of Russian authorities meting out harsher sentences to those who appeal their charges. Earlier this month, Boris Kagarlitsky, a prominent sociologist, was sentenced to five years in prison for criticizing the war in Ukraine — after a court initially ordered him only to pay a $6,500 fine.

In a stirring speech ahead of Tuesday’s sentencing, Orlov read from Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” and said he had “nothing to regret or repent for.”

“A word to you, your honor, and to the prosecution: Aren’t you yourselves afraid? You probably also love our country; aren’t you afraid to witness what it’s turning into?” Orlov said to the judge. “Aren’t you afraid that not only you and your children but, God forbid, your grandchildren also will have to live in this absurdity, in this dystopia?”

Orlov recounted that when he wrote the article over a year ago, friends had accused him of blowing things out of proportion. Now, he said, the situation facing the country was “blatantly clear.”

“The state has become all-pervasive,” he continued. “It’s been only a little over four months since my first trial ended, and in that time, many things happened that illustrate how rapidly our country is sinking ever more deeply into darkness.”

Orlov also noted how the trial began on the day the world learned that Navalny had died, and he described how the “killing of Alexei,” the repression of freedom, the sentencing of regime critics and the invasion of Ukraine were all “links in the same chain.”

Navalny’s wife, family and colleagues have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering a state-sponsored murder of Navalny, his greatest challenger and critic.

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Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, tweeted on Tuesday that even after Navalny’s family had finally reclaimed his body from authorities, no place would host a funeral because of government pressure.

“Since yesterday we have been looking for a site where we can say farewell to Alexei,” she wrote. “Some places say the space is busy, some places refuse upon mention of the name ‘Navalny.’ In one place we were directly told that funeral agencies were prohibited from working with us.”

On Monday, an aide for Navalny said he had been killed in connection with negotiations for a prisoner swap between Russia and Germany.

Aide to Navalny says prisoner swap was in the works before his death

Navalny’s death has served a crushing blow to an already demoralized and fractured Russian opposition, most of whom fled into exile following the invasion of Ukraine or were swept up into prisons across the country, generally for their criticism of the war or past activism.

After the verdict, Orlov calmly offered his wrists to be cuffed by waiting officers, picked up his packed bag and passport, and embraced friends and supporters. Those present applauded him.

Alexandra Popova, a human rights activist and an associate of Orlov who attended the sentencing in Moscow, described the atmosphere inside the courtroom as moving. Once the verdict was passed some wept, she said.

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“Oleg’s sentence is monstrous … and it shows that the state does not spare anyone,” she said. “He is very stoic … but naturally his arrest is causing a lot of fears about how he will endure this imprisonment because he is an elderly person, and this is terribly painful.”

Popova said that Orlov’s sentencing was especially sensitive given that it fell on the anniversary of the death of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader who was gunned down outside the Kremlin in 2015.

On Tuesday, dozens of people laid flowers at the bridge where Nemtsov was killed, including several foreign ambassadors.

Source: Washington Post

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