“Memorial” Award marred by criminal prosecution




The Russian authorities would appear to have decided that human rights defenders’ happiness over Memorial having received the Andrei Sakharov Award needed to be tempered.  According to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s lawyer, a criminal investigation under the article on “defamation” has been initiated against Head of Memorial, Oleg Orlov.

The Chechen leader is, to put it mildly, not indifferent to civic activists. However the criminal investigation has been initiated specifically in Moscow, and most independent observers would seriously question whether this would have been possible without approval from the very top. Oleg Orlov told Radio Svoboda that he had not expected this development.

“My first reaction is surprise. It had seemed as though the refusal to initiate a criminal investigation was the only legally correct decision. Yet it turns out that decisions are taken not on the basis of legal norms, but taking into account other considerations. It would appear on the insistence of some political figures. Well, in my view, as well as that of my lawyer Henry Reznik, the case has no chance from the legal point of view. However we know that in Russia decisions are not only taken on the basis of legal norms.”

Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Ludmila Alexeeva also believes that those who decided to initiate a criminal prosecution against the Head of Memorial acted on the basis of political, and not legal considerations, and therefore the result of the final decision is difficult to predict.

“If our courts were independent, one could be entirely confidant as to the outcome of the case. After all it’s entirely clear what Orlov had in mind speaking of the Chechen President’s responsibility with regard to the murder of Natalya Estemirova. However what our in no way independent courts will decide, I don’t know. It is no secret that such decisions are taken not in the court, but at the political level.” Ludmila Alexeeva points out that in Russia both public officials and civil servants widely use their right to apply to the court for protection from slander. And this is in a situation where everyone knows that the court in Russia depends on the State.

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