(NEW YORK) – PEN America strongly condemns the Russian government’s sentencing of prominent human rights defender Oleg Orlov, co-chair of Memorial, the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Orlov, 70, was found guilty on charges of “repeatedly discreditingthe Russian military and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison. 

Orlov’s case was based on his November 2022 article, “They wanted fascism. They got it,” in which he declared that the “mass murder” being committed by Russian troops in Ukraine has doomed the future of Russia. He also blamed President Vladimir Putin, his regime, and the wider general public for having slipped into fascist totalitarianism. “This verdict shows that my article was accurate and true,” Orlov said after being sentenced.

“This is a shameful verdict that attempts to stifle calls for peace, truth, and justice in Russia. Oleg Orlov has been a tireless advocate for human rights throughout his decades-long career,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America director for Advocacy and Eurasia. “The Russian government has robbed its citizens of their constitutional and human right to freedom of expression. Even so, the truth always comes out in the end, be it for crimes of the past or atrocities committed today. We stand with Orlov and Memorial and support their crucial work protecting and promoting human rights, which is especially vital during these challenging times.” 

Memorial and another 27 Russian and international human rights organizations categorized the case against Orlov as politically motivated and plegeded to appeal the verdict. Established in the late 1980s, Memorial initially focused on documenting political repression under communist rule and assisting in the rehabilitation of its victims. Memorial later expanded its mission to include exposing political oppression and human rights abuses in contemporary Russia. Memorial includes a human rights center, an archive on political repression, a library, and a museum. In 2015, the Russian government classified Memorial as a “foreign agent” and ordered its closure in 2021. Nonetheless, members of Memorial continue their work both in Russia and abroad. Memorial was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Ukraine’s Centre for Civil Liberties and Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski for their work “document[ing] war crimes, human rights abuses, and the abuse of power.”

Orlov’s trial began in March last year, with a potential prison sentence of 5 years if convicted. In October 2023, he was ordered to pay 150,000 rubles (about $1,500 at the time). Both Orlov and the prosecutors lodged appeals against the verdict, with Orlov maintaining his innocence and prosecutors arguing for a prison sentence, asserting that the court had failed to take into account Orlov’s motive. Prosecutors claimed that his article displayed hostility toward the military and what they termed “traditional Russian spiritual, moral, and patriotic values.” Between his initial trial and retrial, Orlov was declared a foreign agent

In a somber twist of fate, Orlov’s retrial began on February 16, the same day the world learned of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death. Orlov joins the head of the Karelian branch of Memorial historian Yury Dmitriev and scores of writers, artists, and other human rights defenders who continue to be imprisoned by the Russian government for expressing their opposition to the war in Ukraine.


About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Dietlind Lerner, [email protected]