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Russian political prisoner, Memorial co-chair Oleg Orlov faces hearing loss in custody

The health of Russian human rights activist Oleg Orlov, 70, is rapidly deteriorating. Orlov is best known for his work as the co-chair of Memorial, a human rights group focusing on examining the crimes of the Stalin regime. The group was ordered to cease its operations in late December 2021 by the country’s Supreme Court. Orlov, who was sentenced in Feb. 2024 to two years and six months in a penal colony for “discrediting the Russian army,” recently caught a cold that threatens to result in hearing loss, Memorial reports in its Telegram channel.

Orlov's colleagues argue that the health complications were caused by his daily commute from the pre-trial detention center to the courthouse, where Orlov studies the materials of his case. The jailed activist has submitted an official request for medical help. Although it does not take a medical professional to notice his poor health condition, Judge Astakhova insists that his trips continue — even though they are keeping him from seeing a doctor at the detention center.

Moreover, Orlov has reported violations of his attorney-client privilege. His communication with his attorney is under strict control, with supervisors banning all discussions that aren't “to the point” and reading all documents passed between the lawyer and the client.

Orlov’s attorneys have filed a complaint to the presidents of the Golovinsky Court and the Moscow City Court, protesting inhumane treatment and the violation of their client's right to defense. They have not received a positive response.

Orlov’s criminal prosecution began in March 2023 following searches at Memorial in another case — this one regarding “the rehabilitation of Nazism.” During the investigation, the human rights group had its computers and archives seized. The charges against Orlov were based on an article in which he called Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine “the heaviest blow to the country's future.” Titled “They Wanted Fascism — They Got It,” the article was first published in the French Mediapart and then by the human rights activist himself on his Facebook page.

In October 2023, Orlov was ordered to pay a fine of $1,600 for “discrediting the army.” However, the Moscow City Court subsequently canceled the penalty and submitted his case for further investigation, which ostensibly revealed “political hatred” as the defendant's motive.

In the trial that followed, Orlov waived his right to self-defense in court, limiting himself to a final statement. In his speech, the veteran human rights activist condemned the murder of Alexei Navalny, the strangling of free speech in Russia, the invasion of Ukraine, and “court reprisals against critics of the regime,” including himself, as links in the same chain.

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