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Moscow court acquits Russia rights activist of slander charges

A court in Moscow acquitted human rights activist Oleg Orlov [JURIST news archive] of a libel suit brought by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov [BBC profile] over an allegation that he was responsible for the killing of a Chechen rights activist. The court found that the allegations were hypothetical [Guardian report] and thus, did not constitute libel. Kadryov brought the charges against Orlov, leader of the Memorial [advocacy website, in Russian] human rights group, after Memorial accused [press release, in Russian] Kadryov of being responsible for the murder of Chechen rights activist Natalia Estemirova [BBC obituary]. She was kidnapped and shot to death [JURIST report] in July 2009. Estemirova was Memorial's representative in Chechnya, and the group has also accused Kadryov of extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, torture and other crimes. Orlov said the decision showed law had won out over politics. He had maintained that the charges were politically motivated. He was facing a potential maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Orlov has been critical of the Russian government. In February 2010, he was arrested along with as many as 100 anti-Kremlin demonstrators [JURIST report] as they protested against the perceived government curtailing of the right to peaceful assembly. The 300-strong group chanted slogans calling for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] to step aside. Kadryov filed the libel charges [JURIST report] against Orlov in October 2009 after Orlov had already lost a civil suit brought by Kadyrov resulting in USD $2,300 in fines and an order to remove his accusation from Memorial's website. The charges came less than a week after Orlov won the prestigious Sakharov Award from the European Union [official websites] for his work with Memorial.

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