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Russian Court Sentences Leader of Memorial Rights Group to Prison


A Moscow court sentenced the co-chairman of Memorial, the Russian rights group that was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, to two and a half years in prison on Tuesday for “discrediting” Russia’s military by voicing his opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Although the Kremlin ordered his group liquidated in late 2021, the co-chairman, Oleg Orlov, 70, chose to stay in Russia after its invasion of Ukraine two years ago and has continued to criticize his government despite a climate of increasing repression.

In November 2022, Mr. Orlov wrote an article headlined “They Wanted Fascism. They Got it,” in which he blamed President Vladimir V. Putin and the wider Russian public for the invasion and for allowing the country to slip “back into totalitarianism.”

Nearly a year later, he was convicted of “repeated discreditation” of Russia’s armed forces. That charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, but he was punished only with a fine of 150,000 rubles, about $1,600, because of mitigating factors including his age and his prominent public profile.

Prosecutors, accusing him of exhibiting “a motive of enmity and hatred toward military personnel,” requested that he be retried and jailed for three years. A Moscow court heeded that request and reheard the case, resulting in the sentencing on Tuesday.

Mr. Orlov has maintained his innocence and denounced the charges as bogus.

“I do not plead guilty, and the accusation is not clear to me,” he told the court during a hearing in mid-February. “The court, despite my requests, was unable to clearly explain the essence of the charges brought against me.”

Rights groups and the United States ambassador to Russia, Lynne M. Tracy, condemned the sentence.

“In previous times his efforts have been awarded at the highest levels,” Ms. Tracy said in a statement posted on the embassy’s website. “In today’s Russia he is being locked away for them.”

Since Mr. Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine two years ago, repression has been on the rise in Russia. There are hundreds of political prisoners in the country, according to Memorial, Mr. Orlov’s organization, which was founded during the fall of the Soviet Union to document rights abuses of the Stalin regime.

More than 20,000 people have been detained for protesting the war in Ukraine, including almost 400 since the death of Russia’s main opposition figure, Aleksei A. Navalny, was announced this month.

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