MOSCOW (AP) — The co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, Oleg Orlov, went on trial in Moscow Thursday, charged with “discrediting” the Russian military in his criticism of Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.
If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.
Orlov has been fined twice for anti-war pickets, with the new charges based on an article he wrote denouncing Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Discrediting the Russian military is a criminal offense under a law adopted after Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The law is regularly used against Kremlin critics.
Memorial and its supporters have called the trial politically motivated.
“Oleg Orlov was brought to the dock solely because of an anti-war article he wrote, denouncing Putin’s Russia as a totalitarian fascist society,” Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director, said. “Predictably, the system he described cannot tolerate his need to defend the truth and his refusal to remain silent after Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
“In my article I spoke about the terrible role that war plays for the development of the political regime in our country,” Orlov told the court, according to a post on Memorial’s Telegram channel. “And how can I be judged like this without violating the law?” he added.
The next hearing is set for July 3.
Orlov’s defense team included Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.
Memorial, one of the oldest and the most renowned Russian rights organizations, was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, along with imprisoned Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski and the Center for Civil Liberties, a Ukrainian human rights group.
Memorial was founded in the Soviet Union in 1987 to ensure the victims of communist repression would be remembered. It has continued to compile information on human rights abuses and track the fate of political prisoners in Russia while facing a relentless crackdown from the Kremlin in recent years, which has intensified since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The group had been declared a “foreign agent,” a designation that brings additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations. Over the years it was ordered to pay massive fines for alleged violations of the ”foreign agent” law. Russia’s Supreme Court ordered Memorial shut down in December 2021, a move that sparked outcry in Russia and abroad.