Human Rights Defender Not Guilty of Slander Charges
A Moscow court acquitted Oleg Orlov, a human rights activist, of charges of slandering Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed strongman who rules Russian occupied Chechen territory with an iron grip.
The slander case stemmed from Oleg Orlov’s statement suggesting that Kadyrov was responsible for the murder of his colleague Natalya Estemirova, who was abducted and killed in Chechnya in July 2009. Under Russia’s criminal libel statutes, Orlov faced a potential sentence of up to three years in prison. Oleg Orlov had maintained the charges were aimed at undermining his Memorial human rights group, which has persistently accused Kadyrov of overseeing extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, torture and other violations in his province. Moscow’s Khamonivski District Court handed down the ruling after a trial that lasted nine months. But, finally, Oleg Orlov, head of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, was acquitted of slandering Ramzan Kadyrov during a hearing on June 14.
“It is a miracle. I considered this to be a political trial and obviously a lost cause,” Orlov said in a packed courtroom corridor. “I always said that in the eyes of the law we were right. I’m glad not that I’ve been vindicated, but that justice has been done,” he said. “It’s a very rare thing.”
Kadyrov’s representative in court, Andrei Krasnenkov, said they would appeal against the verdict. “It doesn’t matter if the court didn’t find malice [in Orlov’s words],” Krasnenkov said. “It was slander. It’s an unjust decision.”
“We are thrilled that Orlov was acquitted. This gives some hope for justice in Russia. The case against Orlov was a distraction from the urgent and real need for justice for Estemirova’s murder,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Oleg Orlov should never have been criminally prosecuted for expressing his opinion. The decision is a small but welcome sign of respect for the rule of law and the right to freedom of expression, even as human rights defenders in Chechnya continue to suffer threats and intimidation. The next step for the Russian justice system should be to fully investigate the killing of Natalia Estemirova and to bring those responsible for her murder to justice,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern and Central Europe.