Russia
06.02.24
Urgent Interventions

Russia: Oleg Orlov and three other Memorial members labelled as "foreign agents"

© Анна Артемьева "Новая Газета" via Wikicommons

URGENT APPEAL – THE OBSERVATORY

New information
RUS 001 / 0323 / OBS 017.3
Stigmatisation /
Judicial harassment
Russian Federation
February 6, 2024


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in the Russian Federation.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed about the designation of Mr Oleg Orlov, prominent human rights defender and co-chairman of the Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre (HRDC “Memorial”), a member organisation of FIDH, as a so-called “foreign agent”. A prominent figure in the defence of human rights in Russia, Mr Orlov was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Expression in 2009, and in 2012 the Moscow Helsinki Group Award for his "historic contribution to the defence of human rights and the human rights movement”.

On February 2, 2024, the Russian Ministry of Justice declared Oleg Orlov a “foreign agent” on their website, stating that Mr Orlov “opposed the special military operation in Ukraine, disseminated inaccurate information about decisions taken by the public authorities of the Russian Federation and the policy they pursued. He took part in the creation of messages and materials of foreign agents for an unlimited number of people and is a member of an organisation included in the register of foreign agents”.

In addition to Oleg Orlov, three other Memorial members were included in the register on February 2, 2024, namely: Mr Mikhail Chimarov, chairman of Memorial's Novgorod branch; Mr Nikita Sokolov, historian and long-time participant in the Memorial movement; and Mr Sergey Stepanov, an activist of the Memorial in Tambov.

The designation of persons and entities as “foreign agents” entails a series of obligations: “foreign agents” are required to submit financial reports every three months, carry out annual mandatory audits, and any information published or disseminated by such persons has to contain a reference to it being published or disseminated by a “foreign agent”. In addition, numerous formal and informal restrictions have been imposed on these persons, such as the inability to be elected, the ban on working in the public service or the ban on teaching.

The Observatory underlines that the inclusion of Oleg Orlov on the register of “foreign agents” takes place in a context of ongoing judicial harassment against the human rights defender on the eve of a new trial against him on charges of “repeated discrediting” of the army, and is being used as a mean of increasing pressure on him.

The Observatory recalls that on October 11, 2023, the Golovinsky District Court of Moscow found Oleg Orlov guilty of “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of armed forces of the Russian Federation” (Article 280.3 (1) of the Criminal Code) and fined him 150,000 roubles (approximately 1,409 Euros), for an article published on the French blogging platform Le Club de Mediapart on November 13, 2022, titled “Russia: they wanted fascism, they got it” (“Russie : ils voulaient le fascisme, ils l'ont eu”).

Both Oleg Orlov and the Prosecutor’s office appealed the verdict, the former demanding a full acquittal and the latter a three-year prison sentence. On December 14, 2023, the verdict was cancelled by the Moscow City Court, and the case was sent for a new investigation under the charge of “repeated discrediting of the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”. The additional investigation was carried out in record time, and Oleg Orlov and his lawyer were not given time to prepare a line of defence.

On February 2, 2024, on the same day as his designation as a “foreign agent”, Oleg Orlov was given only five days to peruse the seven volumes of the criminal case. The judge, who issued this ruling contrary to all procedural norms, did so in the absence of Mr Orlov and his lawyer, who was busy in another trial.

Oleg Orlov is accused of “discrediting the actions of the Russian Army” on the grounds of “ideological hostility against traditional spiritual, moral and patriotic values” and “hatred against the social group of servicemen of the Armed Forces” for his article published on November 13, 2022 on the Mediapart website.

The Observatory further recalls that the pressure on Oleg Orlov is related to his consistent human rights and anti-war positions. After the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he came out five times with anti-war posters to Red Square and the State Duma in Moscow. All five times, he was detained and fined.

The Observatory strongly condemns the designation of Oleg Orlov as a “foreign agent” and calls on the Russian authorities to immediately withdraw his name and that of his colleagues Mikhail Chimarov, Nikita Sokolov and Sergey Stepanov from the register of foreign agents.

The Observatory further calls on the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Oleg Orlov and to stop all acts of harassment, including at the administrative and judicial levels, against him and all human rights defenders and organisations in Russia.

The Observatory further calls on the authorities in Russia to guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in international human rights standards, and particularly in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of the Russian Federation, urging them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Oleg Orlov, Mikhail Chimarov, Nikita Sokolov, Sergey Stepanov, and all human rights defenders in the country;

ii. Exclude the names of Oleg Orlov, Mikhail Chimarov, Nikita Sokolov and Sergey Stepanov from the register of “foreign agents”;

iii. Drop all charges against Oleg Orlov and put an immediate end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial and administrative levels, against him, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country;

iv. Abolish the register of “foreign agents” and all “foreign agent” legislation, which does not provide the necessary legal certainty and falls short of international standards;

v. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as enshrined in international human rights law, and particularly in Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Twitter: @KremlinRussia_E
  • Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter:@GovernmentRF
  • Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, E-mail: ministry@mid.ru
  • Mr. Igor Krasnov, General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, Email: pressa@genproc.gov.ru
  • Mr. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Federal Security Service (FSS), Email: fsb@fsb.ru
  • Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
  • Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
  • Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Email: russia.coe@orange.fr

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Russian Federation in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, February 6, 2024

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail: alert@observatoryfordefenders.org
  • Tel. FIDH : +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
  • Tel. OMCT : +41 (0) 22 809 49 39
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