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Birthday Behind Bars in Russia

Human Rights Defender Preparing Appeal Suffers Ill-Treatment

 The co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Memorial Human Rights Centre Oleg Orlov attends a court session for a new trial on charges of repeatedly discrediting the Russian military,  Moscow, Russia, February 26, 2024. © 2024 Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo

Today, leading Russian human rights defender Oleg Orlov turned 71. He spent his birthday behind bars, his health deteriorating not least due to exhausting daily transport from jail to court and back.

A Moscow court sentenced Orlov to 2 years and 6 months in prison on outlandish charges of “discrediting” Russia’s armed forces. Orlov, who had staunchly criticized Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, filed a preliminary appeal against his conviction on March 12. In his filing, Orlov explained that to finalize the appeal, he needs access to his full case file and to be able to listen to the recording of the trial. The authorities’ response, apparently attempting to accelerate the appeals process, was to transport him back and forth to the courthouse daily under harsh conditions. He is picked up early morning before breakfast, held for hours in a cold prisoner transport vehicle, and returned to his cell late at night, long after dinner.

On occasion, Orlov would spend the entire day in the prisoner transport room without getting access to his case file. The daily trips to court also served to restrict Orlov’s communications with his lawyer, as the guards gave them no opportunity to speak confidentially.

Exhausted from being shuttled back and forth, freezing in the convoy transport, deprived of daily exercise, subsiding on cold rations, and unable to shower, Orlov developed a bad cold, which went untreated. The imposed routine leaves him no time to see a doctor or get any rest.

Orlov’s lawyer complained to the authorities that “the daily transfers … until he examines all the case materials, result in inhuman and degrading treatment and could only be regarded as unlawful pressure on Orlov … to hinder the defense’s preparations for the appeals hearing.” 

In her statement today, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia, Mariana Katsarova, expressed concern that the court “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.” Katsarova described Orlov’s treatment by the authorities as “blatant politicisation of law enforcement and judicial processes to suppress the realisation of civil and political rights in Russia.”

Her conclusion is absolutely accurate. Orlov should be immediately released and all charges against him dropped. 

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