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Oleg Orlov: Always in the sights of the Russian justice system

Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / dpa

The Russian Ministry of Justice declared the well-known civil rights activist Oleg Orlov a "foreign agent" on Friday. According to the Interfax news agency, the 70-year-old was added to the blacklist along with five other people because of his criticism of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine and the spread of alleged false information about the political leadership in Moscow.

The Russian leadership uses the term foreign agent to brand opposition members and critics. Anyone who is listed as a “foreign agent” in Russia must expect numerous disadvantages. The organizations, media and individuals on the register are subject to increased supervision of their finances. The classification is intended to fuel mistrust against them and make their work in Russia more difficult.

Non-governmental organizations complain that Russians are turning away for fear of being accused of collaborating with "foreign agents."

Orlov has been an employee of the non-governmental organization Memorial since the 1980s, which was originally founded to historically examine political tyranny - especially the period of repression under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. For years, Orlov headed Memorial's human rights department and acted as a mediator in organizing prisoner exchanges during the Chechen wars. Memorial received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, but the organization was already banned in Russia.

Orlov, who sharply criticized the war ordered by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, also found himself in the sights of the judiciary. At the end of 2023, he was sentenced to a fine - which political observers described as lenient given the widespread practice of long prison sentences for war opponents. However, the process should be reopened again. Observers see the classification as a foreign agent as the next level of escalation.