Write to Russia: Oleg Orlov – prominent human rights defender imprisoned for exercising the right to freedom of expression

On 27 February 2024 human rights defender Oleg Orlov, one of the founders of the Memorial Society, was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment on charges of ‘discrediting the Russian army.’ On 14 November 2022, Oleg Orlov had published on Facebook the Russian-language text of an article he had written, entitled ‘They wanted fascism. They got it’, that was originally published in French by Mediapart, in which he condemned the war against Ukraine and argued that Russia had turned into a fascist totalitarianism. On 11 October 2023, Orlov was convicted and fined 150,000 roubles for ‘discrediting the Russian army.’ The prosecutor’s office appealed this decision on the grounds that the court had failed to take into account the motive of ‘political hatred.’ In February 2024, there was a retrial in the same court. On 27 February following a retrial Orlov, who is 70 years old, was sentenced to two and a half years in a penal colony and was was taken into custody in the courtroom. Orlov has been recognised as a political prisoner by Memorial and as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

Oleg Orlov has been sent to prison for his work as a human rights defender, defending human and civil rights and freedoms in Russia, including freedom of expression, and for speaking the truth. Orlov’s trial once again exposed the nature of the Russian regime. Russia is in fact a totalitarian fascist regime waging a war of aggression against a neighbouring state and suppressing dissent within its own borders.

‘Human Rights Defender Oleg Orlov is a Political Prisoner,’ Political Prisoners. Memorial, 6 March 2024

Oleg Orlov, co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Memorial, has been convicted under the newly instituted ‘crime’ of ‘repeatedly discrediting’ the Russian Armed Forces and sentenced to two years and eleven months in a penal colony. Today’s sentencing of Orlov is the result of a sham trial enacted by the Russian authorities to punish a prominent state critic and instil fear among those who dare to speak up against the war in Ukraine. Orlov’s prosecution forms part of the authorities’ unrelenting campaign of repression against those who peacefully express dissenting views. Oleg Orlov is a prisoner of conscience. He must be immediately and unconditionally released and all of his criminal convictions should be quashed. ‘War censorship’ laws fly in the face of Russia’s obligations under international human rights law. The authorities must scrap them, and all those detained for peacefully protesting against Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine must be released.

Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director, 27 February 2024

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.”

Tanya Lokshina, ‘Birthday Behind Bars in Russia,’ Human Rights Watch, 4 April 2024

Front Line Defenders expresses its grave concern about Oleg Orlov’s inhumane treatment in prison, which can have a severe impact on his health due to his age. Front Line Defenders continues to condemn the sentencing of the human rights defender to 2.5 years of prison for his peaceful and legitimate human rights work and urges the Russian authorities to immediately release him and drop all the charges. It also reiterates that the articles in the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code criminalizing the “discreditation” and the “use of fakes” to undermine the Russian military are unconstitutional and in violation of Russia’s international human rights obligations. These laws foster censorship in the country and are disproportionately used to target human rights defenders and journalists.

‘Oleg Orlov subjected to inhumane treatment throughout the process towards the appeal hearing,’ Front Line Defenders, 29 March 2024

Write to Russia – Write to Oleg Orlov

The Russian penal system does not allow any messages to prisoners that are written in foreign languages, but Write to Russia is here to help you. To write to Oleg Orlov to show your support for him, please send your letter as an email to us at: letters-to-prisoners@protonmail.com. We shall translate the letter into Russian for you and, depending on your request, either mail the translated letter on your behalf to Oleg Orlov or return the letter to you by email for posting in an envelope with an address written in Russian. If we send the letter on your behalf, we ask that you compensate us for the cost of postage from the UK (currently £2.50 – $3.14; €2.92). To learn more about our letter writing project, click here: Write to Russia.

The address to write to Oleg Orlov is:

125130, г. Москва, ул. Выборгская, д. 20, ФКУ СИЗО-5 УФСИН России по г. Москве, Орлову Олегу Петровичу 1953 г. р.

If you would like to write to another person unjustly deprived of liberty in Russia, the project Write to Russia has so far highlighted the following cases:

  1. Sasha (Aleksandra) Skochilenko – imprisoned for peaceful anti-war protest – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-2/
  2. Mikhail Zhilin – imprisoned for refusing to fight against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-3/
  3. Aleksei Arbuzenko – imprisoned for protesting the war against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-4/
  4. Aleksei Navalny – imprisoned for peaceful participation in electoral politics – died in custody – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-5/
  5. Evgeny Zinich- imprisoned for his faith – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-6/
  6. Alsu Kurmasheva – held on remand for her work as a journalist – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-7/
  7. Bakhrom Khamroev – imprisoned for his political and religious beliefs and human rights work – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-8
  8. Andrei Kapatsyna – imprisoned for his religious beliefs and refusing to fight in Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-9
  9. Gregory Vinter – imprisoned for speaking out about the killings in Bucha and Irpen – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-10
  10. Aleksei Gorinov – imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-11/
  11. Vladimir Kara-Murza – imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-12/
  12. Darya Poliudova – imprisoned for exercising her right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-13/
  13. Ilya Yashin – Ilya Yashin – imprisoned for speaking out about Russian war crimes in Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-14/
  14. Appaz Kurtamet – imprisoned on fabricated charges of ‘financing an illegal armed group’ by a Russian-controlled court in occupied Crimea – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-15/
  15. Vyacheslav Malakhov – remanded in custody for criticising Putin for launching the war against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-16/
  16. Maria Ponomarenko – imprisoned for sharing information about the Russian attack on the Mariupol theatre – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-17/
  17. Grigory Melkonyants – held on remand for his work monitoring elections – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-18/
  18. Daniil Stepanov – imprisoned for anti-war ‘vandalism’ and ‘cooperation with ‘foreign organisations’ – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-19/
  19. Evgenia Berkovich – a theatre director held on remand on charges of ‘justifying terrorism’ in violation of the right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-20/
  20. Svetlana Petriychuk – a playwright held on remand on charges of ‘justifying terrorism’ in violation of the right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-21