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70-Year Old Russian Oleg Orlov imprisoned for Dissent from Ukraine invasion
Exclusive report for the Palast Investigative Fund

This Tuesday, one week after Alexei Navalny’s death, Oleg Orlov, a 70-year-old human rights advocate and co-chairman of the Nobel-Prize winning human rights group Memorial, was convicted under the newly-instituted crime of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces.

A police officer puts handcuffs on Russian veteran human rights campaigner Oleg Orlov during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, February 27, 2024. Orlov was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after he was found guilty of discrediting Russia’s armed forces. Photo: Reuters/Tatyana Makeyeva
He received a sentence of two years and eleven months in a penal colony. Notably, the verdict coincided with the ninth anniversary of the assassination of Russian pro-democracy politician Boris Nemtsov.

Orlov, joining forces with other rights advocates, highlighted the death of Navalny, judicial reprisals against regime critics, and the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine as part of a concerning pattern. The repression against dissidents’ civil rights in the Russian Federation has reached unprecedented levels following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Orlov’s conviction follows others, including Ilya Yashin, 40, a friend of Navalny’s, who was arrested in June 2022 and sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison for “spreading false information” about the Russian military. When Yashin was arrested, Navalny said in a statement that Yashin was the “first friend” he made in politics and knew him since the age of 18. “Knowing Yashin for so long, I won’t even try to write something like, ‘Hold on, Ilya.’ And so I know that he did everything right and will endure everything.”

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a journalist and opposition activist who twice survived poisonings he blamed on Russian authorities, was arrested in 2022 and sentenced to 25 years on charges stemming from a speech denouncing Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. He was moved to the IK-6 penal colony, in Omsk, where he spent the past five months in solitary confinement.

Kara-Murza, who was associated with murdered Putin rival Nemtsov, had successfully lobbied for the US Congressional forpassage of the 2016 Magnitsky Act, named after Sergei Magnitsky, a tax lawyer, who was beaten to death in a Russian prison after he blew the whistle on a quarter-billion-dollar fraud by Putin cronies.

Kara-Murza’s and Ilya Yashin’s association with Boris Nemtsov and Alexei Navalny, both killed for their opposition, underscores the risks.

(l-r) Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov, Ilya Yashin, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Sergei Magnitsky — “nails in the coffin of a tyrant”.

According to The Guardian, Yashin fears for his life after the death of Navalny, sure that Putin had ordered the murder of Navalny behind bars. “And, of course, I understand my own risks. I am behind bars, my life is in Putin’s hands, and it is in danger. But I will continue to push my line.”

OVD-Info, a rights group that monitors political arrests and provides legal aid, reports over 19,000 arrests since the war’s onset, with over 800 facing serious crime charges for antiwar activism, highlighting the Kremlin’s ruthless crackdown on dissent. Over 8,000 faced charges of discrediting the army, punishable by a fine or prison time.

“If we’re supposed to become the nails in the coffin of a tyrant, I’d like to become one of those nails. Just know that this particular one will not bend,” was the message of Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov during his 5-year imprisonment in Russia.

Nemtsov with Putin in July 2000, before Putin had him shot in the back of the head.
Russia’s descent into bloody repression of speech confirms that Putin and allies are, as Navalny said, “They are afraid of you. They are afraid of those people who can stop staying silent and realize their own strength.…I call on you to stop being silent, resist, and take to the street. There are so many of us.”

In a nation like the US where freedom of speech prevails, it may be tempting to underestimate the significance of words. Yet, for numerous dissidents facing harassment or imprisonment for challenging authority, words embody their sole avenue of freedom, the transformative force that shapes history.

Anna Solcaniova King, human rights advocate and artist, is a research associate with the Palast Investigative Fund. Solcaniova King was born in Slovakia, formerly Czechoslovakia, during the Soviet Russian occupation. She now resides in the Pacific Northwest with her family. 

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