Khamovniki District Court in Moscow acquits Oleg Orlov

During the meeting of the Subcommittee on Human Rights on 14th of June, Chairwoman Hautala received the news with delight that Mr. Oleg Orlov, Chairman of the Board of the Human Rights Centre Memorial was acquitted by the Khamovniki District Court in Moscow. The members of the Subcommittee have supported Mr Orlov throughout the criminal and civil judicial persecution, while Ms Hautala has denounced the proceedings against him repeatedly.

European Parliament adopted a resolution concerning his case on 21st of October 2010 and there condemned the opening of a criminal investigation against Mr Orlov and urged the competent authorities to reconsider the decision to open the criminal trial, pointing out that statements like Oleg Orlov’s are legitimate in a democracy and should be subject to neither civil-law nor criminal-law penalties. The resolution also called on the Russian authorities to ensure that there are no further violations of the law in the investigation and the court proceedings against Mr Orlov.

Mr Orlov was awarded the European Parliament 2009 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought together with Ms Ludmila Alexeyeva and Sergei Kovelev on behalf of Memorial.

The civil lawsuit against Mr Orlov has been ongoing since 13th of August 2009 when Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov filed a defamation law suit against Mr Orlov concerning a statement by Mr Orlov that he believed that Mr Kadyrov was responsible for the assassination of Ms. Natalia Estemirova, Head of Memorial office in Grozny, on 15th July 2009. On 9th of February 2010, Kadyrov announced that he would drop the proceedings he initiated against Mr. Orlov.

A criminal investigation by the Prosecutor’s office was opened on 20th of October 2009. This was done under sections 2 and 3 of Article 129 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which concerns libel. The Khamovniki District Court on 14th of June, however, declared that the statements by Mr Orlov were in their view hypothetical and did not constitute slander. Mr Orlov was found guilty on 6th of October 2009 and fined by the Moscow Civil Court 20,000 rubles. He appealed the verdict but lost.

While the dropping of the charges by the Khamovniki District Court is most welcome, it is necessary to keep in mind that to this day the murder of Natalya Estemirova remains to be investigated, Hautala noted.