A rare piece of good news just in on the Russian rights landscape. Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial group, has, somewhat surprisingly, been acquitted in the slander case brought against him by Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. The accusations originated from comments made by Orlov suggesting that the Chechen leader was responsible for the murder of the human rights advocate Natalia Estemirova in July 2009. Human Rights Watch has this report:
“We are thrilled that Orlov was acquitted,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This gives some hope for justice in Russia.”
Orlov was indicted in June 2010 on charges of criminal slander for his statement about Kadyrov. On the day of Estemirova’s murder, Orlov had commented that Kadyrov bore “responsibility” for the killing. In response, Kadyrov filed and won a civil suit for damages to his “honor and dignity.” After a court imposed fines of 20,000 and 50,000 rubles (approximately US$690 and $1,720) respectively against Orlov and the Memorial Human Rights Center, Kadyrov filed a criminal complaint for slander against Orlov.
“The case against Orlov was a distraction from the urgent and real need for justice for Estemirova’s murder,” Lokshina said.
Under Russia’s criminal libel statutes, Orlov faced a potentialsentence of up to three years in prison. On June 7, President DmitriMedvedev introduced amendments to Russia’s criminal code that woulddecriminalize libel, making it instead an administrative offense. Theamendments are pending in the Duma.
“Libel should never be a criminal offense,” Lokshina said.”Decriminalizing libel would be a meaningful advance for protecting freespeech. Maybe soon no other Russian human rights defender or journalistwill have to fight the tough legal battle that Orlov just won just toexpress their opinions.”