A leading Russian human rights defender accused of slandering the Chechen president has been acquitted by a court in Moscow.
Oleg Orlov, head of the NGO Human Rights Centre Memorial, was acquitted of slandering Ramzan Kadyrov during a hearing on Tuesday. Orlov had said he believed Kadyrov was responsible for the murder of his colleague Natalia Estemirova, who was abducted and killed in Chechnya in July 2009.
“Oleg Orlov should never have been criminally prosecuted for expressing his opinion,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern and Central Europe.
“The decision is a small but welcome sign of respect for the rule of law and the right to freedom of expression, even as human rights defenders in Chechnya continue to suffer threats and intimidation.”
The judge found that Oleg Orlov had only expressed his opinion, and had not knowingly made false claims about Ramzan Kadyrov.
It was revealed during the trial that that Natalia Estemirova had received numerous threats when she was working in Chechnya, which she had only revealed to her close friends.
“The next step for the Russian justice system should be to fully investigate the killing of Natalia Estemirova and to bring those responsible for her murder to justice,” said John Dalhuisen.
Following Natalia Estemirova’s murder Memorial suspended its work in Chechnya, and the authorities in Chechnya continue to intimidate and harass human rights activists.
Amnesty International had called throughout Oleg Orlov’s trial for criminal charges to be dropped.
Russian president Dmitryi Medvedev has recently proposed that slander be removed from the Russian criminal code.
Oleg Orlov has already been convicted of slander in a civil case brought by Ramzan Kadyrov.
The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression has called on countries to abolish criminal defamation laws, on the grounds that civil defamation laws provide adequate protection.
Memorial was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2009.