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New trial against human rights activist Orlov

Overshadowed by Navalny's death, a new trial against human rights activist Orlov has begun in Russia. He had criticized the war against Ukraine. His supporters are now quoting Navalny: “Don’t give up!”

The war critic Oleg Orlov from the human rights organization Memorial is back on trial in Russia. Overshadowed by the death of Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny, the trial began on Friday in Moscow. Orlov clearly positioned himself against Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine in an article in 2022. Last year he was fined for “discrediting” the Russian army.

In December, a court annulled the verdict and referred the case back to prosecutors. This cleared the way for the new trial, in which Orlov now faces several years in prison.

Orlov and his supporters speak of a politically motivated process. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Memorial is already banned in Russia. “The death of Alexei Navalny is a tragedy (…) for everyone who wants Russia to become a democratic country,” she said. The human rights activists added that it is now important to act according to Navalny's following famous words: “Don't give up!”

Classified as a “foreign agent.”

In addition to Orlov's lawyer Katerina Tertukhina, dozens of Orlov's supporters also appeared in court, as the dpa news agency reported. “I plead not guilty and I don't understand the charges,” said Orlov in a firm voice in front of the courtroom, which was filled to capacity.

He then repeated his criticism of Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin's power apparatus: “In my opinion, the invasion of Russian troops into Ukrainian territory was to the detriment of my fatherland, to the detriment of my interests and the interests of other citizens of Russia.” Orlov also stated that he would not allow any witnesses to defend himself in order not to put them in danger.

At the beginning of February, the Russian Justice Ministry classified Orlov as a “foreign agent” because of his criticism of the war. The Russian leadership repeatedly uses this term to brand opposition members and critics. The classification brings with it numerous disadvantages and creates fear among supporters that they will be accused of collaboration. With this in mind, Orlov explained that he was simply asking to have the last word at the end of the trial.

Organization dissolved in 2021

Orlov is one of the few Russian opposition figures who is not in prison or in exile. He has spent much of his life documenting rights violations – both in the Soviet Union and more recently. Since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine around two years ago, he has criticized it several times.

He recently said in an interview with the AFP news agency that he would continue the fight. “I don't want to end up in prison – but do I have any other choice?” he said. The Russian authorities disbanded Memorial in December 2021.

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