Russian campaigner defends right to disagree with Putin at trial over ‘fascism’ article By Reuters


By Mark Trevelyan

LONDON (Reuters) – Veteran rights campaigner Oleg Orlov urged a Moscow court on Wednesday to acquit him of discrediting the armed forces by speaking out against the war in Ukraine, saying Russians had the right to disagree with their president.

Orlov, 70, was defending himself in a case based on a November 2022 article in which he wrote that Russia under President Vladimir Putin had descended into fascism.

“Where is it defined that our commander-in-chief (Putin) always rightly understands not only the interests of Russia, but the interests of its citizens?” Orlov asked in his closing speech at a trial which began in June.

“And if the ideas of a part of Russia’s citizens about their own interests don’t match those of the commander-in-chief, don’t they have the right to talk about this?”

“But in that case, the president is no longer a president, but a spiritual and secular leader… Or are Russia’s top officials now infallible, like the Pope?”

In its own summing-up, the prosecution said that citizens had duties as well as rights such as freedom of speech, and these included the duty to obey laws,

It said it was impermissible to carry out “provocations aimed at splitting civil society”.

Based on Orlov’s age and state of health, however, the prosecution said it was seeking a fine of 250,000 roubles ($2,500) rather than the prison sentence of up to three years that it could have sought under laws passed soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

The judge was expected to pass sentence later on Wednesday.


Orlov is one of Russia’s best known and most respected rights advocates. Since 1999, he has been one of the leaders of Memorial, which won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, a year after being banned and dissolved in Russia.

Since its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has intensified a long-running crackdown on all forms of political dissent and made it an offence to “discredit” the armed forces or deviate from government accounts of the war it describes as a “special military operation”.

Among other prominent figures to be jailed this year, opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in April for treason and spreading “false information” about the war in Ukraine.

Russia’s best known opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced to an additional 19 years in August on a range of charges relating to “extremist” activity, on top of the 11-1/2 year term he was already serving.


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