Court clears rights activist Orlov of slandering Chechen leader Kadyrov

Moscow : A woman places a candle near a portrait of slain Russian human rights activist Natalya Estemirova. (AFP PHOTO / OXANA ONIPKO)
A Moscow district court on Tuesday acquitted the head of Russia’s major Human Rights NGO, Memorial, Oleg Orlov, of slandering the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov.

The judge ruled that Orlov’s statement of Kadyrov’s involvement in the abduction and murder of Chechen activist Natalia Estemirova were not slander, but rather an evaluation and Orlov never suggested Kadyrov’s personal involvement in the crime, but spoke only of general responsibility.

The verdict also stated that the aggrieved party failed to prove the direct intent of the suspect which, according to the Russian law is a qualifying feature of slander.

Kadyrov’s lawyer has said that his client plans to appeal the sentence.

Earlier Orlov lost a civil lawsuit to Kadyrov and was ordered to pay a fine, but on Tuesday the judge ruled that the decision of an administrative court must not affect a criminal process.

Within the criminal case, prosecutors asked that Orlov be fined 150 000 rubles (over $5000) for slandering a person with accusations of a grave crime, and Kadyrov’s lawyers sought a real prison sentence of three years. Kadyrov himself spoke at the process via a video link and asked the court to punish Orlov “according to the law.”

The defense said that full acquittal was the only lawful decision possible in the case.

“I do not regret I publicly said the words that I am accused of and that I put these words in the Memorial press-release and that I took part in the promotion of this release. When proving my right here I defend the Russian citizens’ right for freedom of expression,” Orlov said in his final plea in court. Amnesty International rights watchdog has criticized the process and called upon the Russian authorities to stop the prosecution of Orlov as, in their opinion, rights activists have the right to speak about violations taking place in Chechnya and the laws on slander must not be used to undermine their civil activities.

Orlov was charged with slander in July 2010, a year after Human Rights activist Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped and killed in the Chechen capital Grozny. Orlov has repeatedly said that he maintained his opinion and that he was talking about Kadyrov’s responsibility for the murder and not about personal involvement.