Russian court orders retrial of veteran rights campaigner

(Reuters) – A Moscow court on Thursday ordered a retrial in the case of a veteran Russian human rights campaigner who is fighting charges of discrediting the country’s armed forces.

Oleg Orlov, 70, has been for more than two decades 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.

A district court in October fined Orlov 150,000 roubles ($1,687) – a relatively light sentence for a critic of the Ukraine war, due to his age and health – after he wrote an article saying that Russia under President Vladimir Putin had descended into fascism.

Orlov appealed against that verdict and prosecutors then sought a three-year jail sentence, accusing him of “political hatred of Russia”, something he denies.

In Thursday’s hearing, Orlov insisted he was a true patriot and repeated his criticism of the Ukraine war and of the erosion of human rights in Russia, according to Memorial’s Telegram channel.

The retrial was ordered on a legal technicality after prosecutors shifted their position.

Since sending its tanks into Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has intensified a long-running clampdown on all forms of political dissent and made it an offence to discredit the armed forces or deviate from government accounts of what it calls its “special military operation”.

Putin, speaking on Thursday at a year-end press conference in Moscow, reiterated his determination to fight on in Ukraine until he secures that country’s “demilitarisation”, “denazification” and neutrality.

Kyiv and its Western allies say Russia’s actions in Ukraine amount to an unprovoked war of aggression and an imperial-style land grab.

($1 = 88.8990 roubles)

(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)