Bizarre 'motives' concocted to imprison renowned Memorial Head for opposing Russia's war against Ukraine
Russia’s prosecutor has come up with new ‘motives’ to try to ensure that 70-year-old Oleg Orlov receives a prison sentence for an article in which he condemned Russia’s crimes against Ukraine and said that Russia had descended into fascist totalitarianism. The world-renowned Head of the Memorial Centre to have been impelled by “ideological enmity towards traditional spiritual-moral and patriotic values” and to also hate “the social group of ‘military servicemen’”.
This is Orlov’s second trial on the same basic charge of supposedly ‘discrediting Russia’s armed forces and its operations’ under Article 280.3 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code. Criminal charges were brought in March 2023, with the excuse being that Orlov had already been convicted in administrative prosecutions of the same basic charge (Article 20.3.3 of the RF code of administrative offences). Russia’s persecution of Orlov had received considerable publicity both in Russia and abroad, with this possibly the reason why the first trial at the Golovinsky district court in Moscow ended on 11 October 2023 with judge Kristina Kostryukova providing the effectively inevitable conviction, but ‘only’ imposing a 150-thousand rouble fine. Although the maximum sentence according to the version of the code under which Orlov was charged was three years’ imprisonment, the prosecutors - Svetlana Kildysheva and M. I. Shcherbakova – had themselves asked for a fine, albeit steeper, of 250 thousand roubles.
By 26 October, the public prosecutor had, as probably always intended, lodged an appeal, claiming that the sentence was ‘too lenient’ and demanding the full three-year real term of imprisonment envisaged under Article 280.3 § 1. The claim then was that there were aggravating circumstances, with this alleged to be “a motive of political and ideological hatred towards the Russian Federation”.
However, on 14 December, the prosecutor’s office changed its position and asked the Moscow City Court to send the case back to the prosecutor as the investigator had, purportedly, not established the motive of the so-called ‘crime’. The court , revoking the sentence and returning the case to the prosecutor.
By 27 December, the new prosecutor, Ilya Savchenko, Orlov and ordered a new ‘expert assessment’ from a centre linked with the FSB [Russia’s security service].
The Memorial Centre on 30 January 2024 that the new ‘investigation’ had been completed and that the prosecution had found its new ‘motive’. The prosecutors had been helped in this by the ‘expert assessment’, although, Memorial notes, it was only on the third attempt that they got what they wanted.
On 29 January, Savchenko produced the decision on prosecuting Orlov. Although the charge remains the same (Article 280.3 § 1), there is now claimed to be an aggravating circumstance, namely ‘motives of hatred and enmity’. Using the Russian euphemism, ‘special military operation’, Savchenko asserts that this is carried out on the territory of the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’], ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ [‘LPR’] “and Ukraine” in order to “counter systematic acts of armed aggression by Ukraine against DPR and LPR, against the civilian population and civic infrastructure, as well as to defend the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, to maintain international peace [sic] and security”.
Memorial notes that there is nothing here about ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’, although these were mentioned in the indictment following the first ‘investigation’.
Savchenko then spells out the alleged ‘motives’, namely those of “ideological enmity towards traditional spiritual-moral and patriotic values” and also enmity towards “the social group of ‘military servicemen of the Russian Federation’s armed forces”.
According to Savchenko, “though his intentional actions, O.P. Orlov posed a real threat that a false impression would be formed among the public about the actions of the RF armed forces, about the aims and tasks of the special military operation” and would lead to further action aimed at the discrediting of the armed forces, with this allegedly “able to cause an unwarranted increase in social tension, with this causing damage to the interests of the RF and its armed forces.”
Although all ‘expert assessments’ are essentially farmed out to individuals and organizations who can be relied upon to find the ‘incriminating elements’ demanded of them, there are certain rules of procedure, set out in the Russian criminal procedure code. Savchenko was clearly in too much of a hurry to worry about such niceties. Orlov explains that he and his lawyer were presented with the decision onf 29 January, and with the results of the ‘expert assessment’. The decision to order an expert assessment was dated 22 January, with the ready product already presented on 24 January. Even more absurd is the fact that this was the third decision on ordering a linguistic expert assessment. It is not clear what went wrong with the first one ordered from an ‘expert centre’ under the FSB in December 2023, but a new one was ordered on 22 January from a centre linked with Russia’s central police department in Moscow. In this second attempt, there was only one question, namely whether Orlov’s article contained utterances “aimed at the discrediting of the use of the RF armed forces on the territory of another state”/
Yet then, on 29 January, Orlov and his lawyer were handed a third, backdated version of the decision. The police department ‘expert centre’ remained the same, but not the questions.
It cannot, however, be said that these were different questions, quite the contrary. Orlov explains that they were exactly the same four questions that were put (by the same Ilya Savchenko) to two notorious ‘experts’ back in April 2023. Neither Natalia Kryukova, maths teacher and co-founder of the so-called Centre for Socio-Cultural Expert Assessments) and translator Alexander Tarasov have any professional skills entitling them to provide the ‘linguistic expert assessments’ demanded of them, but they have on innumerable occasions provided exactly what the prosecution wanted to persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses; Pussy Riot and different Memorial organizations. Kryukova also played a part in the political persecution of world-renowned historian of the Terror and Memorial leader, Yuri Dmitriev (more details here).
Orlov explains that they were presented with the third decision to order a ‘linguistic expert assessment’, but with the same four questions answered back in April 2023 by Kryukova and Tarasov. Their assessment, he says, was totally “refuted by serious linguistic specialists during the hearings in my case. And now exactly the same questions are being put to a state institution”, namely the centre within the police department.
The police ‘expert’ Marina Zuyeva began carrying out her supposed ‘expert assessment’ on 23 January and finished it on 24 January. Her assessment seems marginally less obliging than that providing by Kryukova and Tarasov (she did not, for example, find any evidence that Orlov, in his article, justified countering the actions of the Russian armed forces).
The problem, or more specifically the mechanism for political persecution, lies in Article 280.3 of Russia’s criminal code and the other draconian charges rushed into law within ten days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Orlov is on trial for writing the truth, and any formulation of charges that claims this to be ‘discrediting Russia’s armed forces’ and their supposed ‘defence of Russia’s interests and international peace’ must, by definition, be slanted and aimed at political persecution.
Oleg Orlov was charged over his posting on his Facebook page of the Russian translation of his article “They wanted fascism. They got it”, which was published by the French Mediapart on 14 November 2022. The article states, for example, that “The bloody war launched by Putin in Ukraine is not only the mass killing of people, the destruction of infrastructure, of the economy, of cultural sites of this wonderful country. It is not only the crushing of the foundations of international law. It is also the gravest of blows against Russia’s future. <> A country which, 30 years ago, moved from communist totalitarianism has descended back into totalitarianism, but now fascist.”