Final Plea in Court by Oleg Orlov

posted 10 Jun 2011, 11:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 10 Jun 2011, 11:59 ]
Source: (info), 09/06/11

· Human Rights Defenders   · Moscow City & Moscow Region   · Victims of Conflict

Your Honour,

I do not regret having publicly pronounced the words I have been incriminated for, nor do I regret their publication in a press-release of the Human Rights Center ''Memorial'', nor my contribution to the dissemination of that press-release.

I do not have any regrets because my actions do not constitute a crime.

This has been proven by my lawyer Henry Markovich Reznik and his brilliant and convincing speech.

I do not have any regrets because, by proving my innocence, I defend the right of Russian citizens to freely express their opinions. This right is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many other remarkable international documents.

The initiation of criminal proceedings against my words itself, the attempts of the prosecution to convince the Court to recognize me as a criminal are nothing but an undisguised encroachment upon freedom of expression and freedom of opinion. This again shows that free expression in Russia is under threat. In Chechnya today, the only opinions that can be freely expressed are the ones that entirely and completely coincide with the opinion of the Head of the Republic. In other parts of Russia the suppression of freedom of expression has not yet reached such a degree. The decision that is going to be delivered by the Court on the given case will either push our country further towards despotism, or, on the contrary, serve the defense of the fundamental human rights, the assertion of a European model of Russia.

Secondly I do not regret because I was telling the truth. It has been clearly demonstrated during the long trial. I have provided ample evidence of my innocence throughout the proceedings. It also appears as such in the witness testimonies and not only from the defense witnesses for defense. The testimonies of some witnesses summoned by the prosecution also illustrate the current situation in Chechnya.

Your Honour! I’m not trying to assert that nothing has changed in Chechnya over the recent years. Our opponents are portraying us as those who blatantly blacken the actual situation in the republic. This is not so. We are happy to state that people in Chechnya no longer fall victim to aerial and artillery attacks. The Chechens have rebuilt their ruined towns and villages. In 2007 and partly in 2008 the number of abductions in Chechnya became notably smaller, which we specifically noted and commended the local authorities for their role in this process. The positive dynamics, however, did not last long.

Soon, abductions were on the rise again, and so were demonstrative collective punishments. It became practically impossible to voice any independent opinion or criticism. Natalia Estemirova spoke and wrote about those developments. A regime of next to absolute power has been established in Chechnya. Today, the atmosphere in the republic is suffocating.

Your Honour! Never in the 17 years that we have been working in Chechnya have we seen such fear in the eyes of its people, not even in the time of intense bombings and large scale mop-up operations.

A full set of documents and testimonies has been presented to the Court testifying about grave crimes committed on behalf of the Republic's authorities and about the impunity of these crimes; about regular and omnipresent infringement of law; about the overwhelming climate of fear reigning in the Chechen Republic; about officials in Chechnya putting pressure on human rights activists and insulting them; about officials threatening those who dare oppose them in public, in particular, about Kadyrov having insulted and threatened Natalya Estemirova; and, ultimately, about the implication of such threats in Chechnya when they come from Kadyrov.

All these documents, all these testimonies prove that there were no lies to my statement; they prove that my words were true. And, therefore, I do not have anything to repent for.

I do not regret for one last reason, it being the most important one. Saying for everybody to hear what I said on July 15, 2009, was my duty towards my assassinated friend, towards that bright and wonderful person, Natalya Estemirova.

Natasha was genetically unable to put up with arbitrary rules, lawlessness and cruelty, no matter who was behind it: federal forces, Chechen authorities or insurgents. This is exactly why people were turning to her, coming to her for help. She was fighting her battle in order to save people, those abducted or the ones subjected to torture; she was fighting to save the refugees thrown out by officials from their temporary placement points, and for the right of people from the mountainous villages to return to their homes; for parents to have the right to know the fate of their sons taken out of their homes by armed men, and for the dignity of women in Chechnya. She also found the strength to take care of strictly social issues – for example, she helped Chechen students to stand up to the transport monopoly for cheap buses that brought them from rural areas to Grozny. Natasha could have rightfully been called the people’s defender. She gave her life for people, protecting their rights, their freedom, and their lives.

I believe that Natasha Estemirova was one of those people who make the pride of the Chechen people, of the whole of Russia.

I believe that within a short time Natasha's favorite prospekt in Grozny, today named after Putin, will get its original name ''the Victory Prospekt'' back, and that a street named after Natasha Estimorova will not too far from it.

Her opponents were those thinking that the end justifies the means, that war authorizes any crime, that brutal force can solve everything; those who hold life and people's dignity cheap.

Not telling the truth about who is to blame for her death, about the man who has created a system, in which he possesses an absolute power, a system of practically legalized lawlessness, a system demonstratively hostile to people like Natalya Estemirova, was impossible. It would itself have been treacherous and cowardly. That is why I took the responsibility and said what had to be said on that day.

Standing today before the Court up for my innocence, I once again give tribute to the memory of the inspiring personality Natasha Estemirova.

Translation by Memorial