Russia arrests leading member of Nobel Prize-winning rights group
Russian police have arrested one of the leaders of Memorial, the rights group that shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, as Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on dissent continues more than a year into his invasion of Ukraine.
The homes of several Memorial leaders in Moscow were raided on Tuesday and Oleg Orlov, the head of the group’s human rights practice, was charged with “repeatedly discrediting the armed forces”. If found guilty, he would face up to three years in prison.
Memorial, which documented atrocities under Joseph Stalin’s regime in the Soviet era as well as recording rights abuses in contemporary Russia, was banned in late 2021. A number of the group’s longtime activists, including 69-year-old Orlov, resumed some of its work last year as a new entity.
Memorial won the Nobel Peace Prize in October for its “outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power”, alongside Ukraine’s Centre for Civil Liberties and Belarus’s Viasna, whose leader Ales Bialiatski was this month sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Orlov told reporters after being released that he had been charged in connection with an article he wrote for the French website Mediapart in November and published in Russian on Facebook. The article condemned the “bloody war unleashed by Putin’s regime in Ukraine” and said “a victorious fascist Russia would inevitably become a serious security threat not just for its neighbours, but all of Europe”.
In a video posted by Vasily Polonsky, the independent Russian journalist, Orlov said police had seized his electronic devices, a “No War” badge, Memorial stickers and a book documenting alleged Russian war crimes in Chechnya in the 1990s.
Searches were conducted at Orlov’s apartment and the homes of eight other Memorial members on Tuesday morning as part of an investigation into what the police said were separate charges of “rehabilitating Nazism”.
Those charges date back to 2021 when Memorial admitted it had mistakenly added a Nazi collaborator and two traitors to a list of millions of Russians eligible for rehabilitation after being executed during Stalin’s reign of terror.
Memorial said another of its members, Alexandra Polivanova, had been released after being named as a witness in the Nazism case, while two other senior members were held for interrogation.
The group posted photos of masked security forces outside its office holding a sledgehammer and jackhammer, although it said the men did not use them to enter the building.
Over the past year, Russia has charged 482 people under new wartime censorship laws rushed through in the days immediately after the invasion began in February 2022, according to OVD-Info, an independent rights group. It has jailed 136 of them.
The crackdown has essentially crushed dissent in Russia — defined under the law as anything deviating from the Kremlin’s official line — prompting hundreds of activists and independent journalists to flee the country.
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