Russia jails Nobel Peace Prize winner for ‘repeatedly criticising armed forces’


Oleg Orlov has spent his life documenting repression.

He is co-chair of Russia’s oldest human rights group, Memorial, which was shut down and forced out of Russia shortly before the Ukraine war and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.

Mr Orlov vowed to continue his human rights work inside the country, holding single pickets against the war and continuing to speak out against the Russian state which he likened to the regimes of Franco, Salazar or Mussolini.

Now, at 70 years old, he has been jailed for two and a half years for supposedly “repeatedly” criticising the armed forces.

In his closing statement at a court in Moscow, Mr Orlov said he did not regret or repent. He described the court process as Kafkaesque, “absurdity and tyranny dressed up as formal adherence to some pseudo-legal procedures”.

As for those working within the state’s legal and administrative bureaucracy, he had this to say. “Their children or grandchildren will be ashamed to talk about where their fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers worked and what they did. Same will happen to those who, in carrying out orders, are committing crimes in Ukraine. In my view, this is the worst punishment. And it is inevitable.”

His supporters crowded the corridors, cheering and clapping as this slight, white-haired man was marched past in handcuffs.

People paying their respects to Boris Nemtsov
People pay their respects to Boris Nemtsov

His sentencing comes on the ninth anniversary of the assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot outside the Kremlin in 2015. Over the years, volunteers who have guarded the site have been threatened, detained and one so badly beaten he later died. After the death of Alexei Navalny, men in balaclavas were filmed removing flowers from the site and throwing them into bin liners. Today just the police stood guard.

But people still came to pay their respects, some of them in tears. “He was a man of great mind. I hope if I have children I will tell them who Boris Nemtsov was,” Mila said. “Unfortunately our country doesn’t need people like that.”

I asked another woman what he meant to her. “My youth and my hopes,” she said drily.

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A memorial to Wagner fighters in Moscow
A memorial to Wagner fighters in Moscow

Some flowers left for Alexei Navlany at the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow
Flowers left for Alexei Navalny at the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow

Not far up the road, past St Basil’s Cathedral and east towards the Kremlin administration, there is another memorial. This one is to Wagner fighters. The flowers here do not get removed and the fake red carnations ensure there is always a flash of colour. This is where you meet supporters of the other Russia, the Putinist pro-war camp.

“Boris Nemtsov wanted to ruin our country,” said a woman I spoke to there. “What does he have to do with this?”

I asked her what she thought of Alexei Navalny.

“He wasn’t fighting for freedom, he fought for there to be no Russia,” she replied and gestured at the memorial, adding: “These guys, they fought for Russia to exist.”

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