Lev Shlosberg: Freedom for Oleg Orlov and for all other political prisoners

4 April 2024 

Oleg Petrovich Orlov is 71. He encounters the first day of his life in captivity, where he’s found himself on the decision of a ‘court’ implementing a shameful political order.

by Lev Shlosberg

Source: Facebook

Oleg Orlov was born into a family of Moscow intellectuals, on whom the 20th CPSU Congress and the denunciation of the cult of Stalin had a strong influence. Upon graduating from the Faculty of Biology at Moscow State University, he worked at the Institute of Plant Physiology of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1979, after the start of the war in Afghanistan, Orlov constructed a hectograph, and for two years stuck up leaflets concerning the war, the situation in Poland, and the activity of the Solidarity movement.

In 1988, Orlov became a member of the Memorial initiative group, on the basis of which the All-Union Historical-Educational Memorial Society and later the International Historical-Educational Human Rights Memorial Society were created. In 1990, he became chair of the board of the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

Also in 1990, Orlov acted as a representative for Sergei Kovalev in the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR. After Kovalev’s election, Orlov worked at the Supreme Soviet on laws relating to the humanization of the penitentiary system and the rehabilitation of victims of political repression.

From 1991 to 1994 Orlov worked as an observer during armed conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Moldova, and the Ingush-Ossetian conflict zone. Starting in 1994, together with Sergei Kovalev, Chair of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, he worked in the military conflict zone in Chechnya, participating in negotiations on prisoner exchanges and inspecting hospitals and camps for prisoners of war.

In June 1995, Orlov, as part of a group led by Kovalev, participated in negotiations with terrorists in Budennovsk. Members of Kovalev’s group (including Orlov) became voluntary hostages as a guarantee of agreements reached in exchange for the release of the majority of the hostages.

In 2004, Orlov became a member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights. In 2006, he left the Council in protest over Vladimir Putin’s comments on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, in which he stated that ‘this murder causes more damage and detriment to the ruling authorities than her (Politkovskaya’s) publications.’

On the night of November 24th, 2007, Oleg Orlov and journalists from the REN TV company were kidnapped from a Nazran hotel by armed men. They put bags over the heads of those they seized and took them to a field, where they dragged them from the car, knocked them to the ground, and began to beat them. One of the journalists later said: ‘They beat us silently.  After this one of them said that now they would shoot us. But then added: “A shame we didn’t bring the silencers,” and they left.’ The criminal investigation was suspended in 2011.

On February 27th, 2024, a court sentenced Orlov on a second attempt to two and a half years of imprisonment on a charge of repeated ‘discrediting of the armed forces’ – for the text of an article he had written. On March 12th, Orlov filed an appeal, in connection with which he is forcibly taken to the courtroom daily in gruelling conditions and is being rushed to familiarize himself with the case materials. He is deprived of hot food, access to medicine, and the medical care he needs due to existing health conditions. The workers of the Vodnik pre-trial detention centre suggested that 70-year-old Orlov sign a consent to be sent to the warzone in Ukraine. He refused.

What is being done to Orlov is demonstrative torture and retribution. His services to Russian society and his absolute personal courage made him a target of special significance for the authorities. The conditions of his incarceration threaten his life, and the authorities cannot fail to understand this.

Two and a half years – this is a very long time for a person of such an age. Having been born a month after the death of Stalin, never once having deviated from his beliefs, Orlov may die in prison under Putin. God forbid.

Freedom for Oleg Orlov and for all other political prisoners.

Translated by Alyssa Rider