NHC hails decision by Moscow court to acquit human rights activist | Den norske Helsingforskomité

NHC hails decision by Moscow court to acquit human rights activist

NHC hails decision by Moscow court to acquit human rights activist

On Tuesday, a Moscow court ruled to acquit Oleg P. Orlov, Chair of the Memorial Human Rights Society, one of Europe’s most respected human rights groups. Mr. Orlov was charged with defamation against Chechen President Ramzan A. Kadyrov, in connection with statements Orlov made at the time Memorial employee and award winning human rights defender Natalya Estemirova was killed in 2009.
- I welcome the ruling in our colleague Oleg Petrovich’s case as a step in the right direction for a judicial system that historically has lacked willingness to support and protect human rights defenders, says NHC Secretary General Bjørn Engesland.

- This is also Russia’s obligation, according to the UN Declaration on human rights defenders. The ruling sends a signal to the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov that the law cannot be twisted to serve the purposes of those who undermine it, says Engesland.

Mr. Orlov accused President Kadyrov of being politically responsible for the murder of Estemirova. Estemirova was a frequent critic of the Chechen leadership and President Kadyrov. In July 2009, she was abducted from her home as she was preparing an extensive report on human rights abuses in Chechnya. Soon after, authorities found her body, with bullet wounds to the head and chest. No one has yet been brought to justice for her murder.

Immediately following the death of Estemirova, Orlov held a press conference in which he told reporters he was certain that President Kadyrov carried at least some responsibility for her murder. After successfully winning a civil suit for defamation against Orlov in 2009, Kadyrov lodged a criminal complaint and his lawyer was seeking to impose a 3-year prison sentence on the human rights defender. Defamation suits appear to be a way of pressuring critics to stay silent regarding perceived human rights abuses.

- It’s a joyous and surprising occasion, said Orlov following the decision. Although I knew the law was on our side, I thought from the start that the process was politicized and that the odds were against my acquittal. Judge Karina Morozova, however, held that under Russian law, an individual cannot be criminally responsible for statements made that they believed to be true, and that no evidence of a criminal intent on behalf of the defendant had been disclosed in court, Orlov continued. - I’m glad not just because I’ve been vindicated, but because justice has been done. It’s a very rare thing.