“They made the courts an integral part of dictatorship”. Memorial’s Oleg Orlov speaks at the Moscow City Court
Елизавета Нестерова
“They made the courts an integral part of dictatorship”. Memorial’s Oleg Orlov speaks at the Moscow City Court
11 July 2024, 15:09

Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

Today, the Moscow City Court upheld the sentence of 2.5 years in a penal colony for Oleg Orlov, co-chair of the human rights group Memorial, over a single anti-war article. The courtroom and overflow room were packed with supporters. Before the hearing, Orlov attempted to speak in support of Russian political prisoners, but his microphone was cut off. In protest, continuing the Soviet dissident tradition, he refused to participate in the hearing—calling witnesses, asking questions, and answering them. Orlov reserved only the right to his final statement. Here is what he said.

For the fourth time, I have the chance to make a final statement in this ongoing prosecution over a single anti-war article where I critiqued the current political regime in my country.

In my three previous final statements, I covered everything important—about my case, the widespread political repression in Russia, and the past, present, and future of our country, which is shared by both me and those who persecute me.

So, what should I say now? During the first trial, back at the Golovinsky District Court, I followed the principle of the presumption of good faith. Not because I believed it was upheld in today’s Russia, but because my human rights worldview required it.

Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

After my case was sent back for further investigation with explicit instructions to find aggravating circumstances, it became clear that the investigation, the prosecutor’s office, and the court were all following a politically motivated order. From that moment, continuing my active participation in the trial seemed not only pointless but foolish. So, I stopped.

I stopped because it was obvious—the outcome had already been decided. What more could I say? Perhaps just quote someone and leave it at that, with a few words changed or omitted. I’ll explain what I omitted afterwards. Here’s the quote:

“The defendants and their colleagues distorted, perverted, and finally accomplished the complete overthrow of justice and law. They made the system of courts an integral part of dictatorship. They established and operated special tribunals, obedient only to the political dictates. They abolished all semblance of judicial independence. They browbeat, bullied, and denied fundamental rights to those who came before the courts. The ‘trials’ they conducted became horrible farces, with vestigial remnants of legal procedure which only served to mock the hapless victims.”

End of quote. These words could be spoken by any Russian political prisoner today, by all rights. But after spending time in prison and talking to many people here, I believe these words apply not only to political prisoners but to a vast number of those imprisoned on non-political charges.

UK and US ambassadors. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

These words perfectly describe the current state of the Russian judiciary. They were spoken in 1947 at Nuremberg by Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at the judges’ trial of the leaders and officials of the Nazi judiciary.

I only omitted a few words: “in Germany,” the word “Hitler,” and the references to the tribunal. We don’t have special tribunals in Russia yet. Yet. But the parallels are clear.

And in conclusion, I will quote another statement, from the prominent Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky:

“History is not a teacher but a warden. It does not teach anything but severely punishes for not learning its lessons.” End of quote. It’s time to draw conclusions. That’s all.

When Oleg Orlov finished his speech, the audience in both rooms applauded.

Editor: Mika Golubovsky

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