VIENNA, 28 October 2009 - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said today that criminal proceedings launched against Memorial chairman Oleg Orlov for his criticism of Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of the Chechen Republic, are a serious departure from free-speech standards.
In a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Haraszti said he hoped Russian courts would enforce the principles of freedom of expression.
"Criminalization of critical political statements is unacceptable and contravenes OSCE free-speech commitments," Haraszti said.
This is the second legal procedure initiated against Orlov in less than four months. The proceedings stem from comments Orlov made about Kadyrov in July after the abduction and assassination of Memorial worker Natalia Estemirova.
On 6 October, a Moscow civil-law court ordered Orlov and Memorial to pay Kadyrov the equivalent of 1,600 euros for "insulting his honour and dignity".
"In his comments after Estemirova's assassination, Orlov made clear he meant that Kadyrov was politically accountable for the climate of fear that prevails in the Chechen Republic. Such statements are legitimate opinions in a democracy," Haraszti said.
"The new criminal procedure is all the more outrageous since it reverses a previous decision by the Russian Interior Ministry to reject Kadyrov's criminal suit against Orlov," Haraszti added.
In his letter to Lavrov, Haraszti stressed the need to reform laws and practices which go against the principle of political accountability of public officials, a cornerstone of a well-functioning democratic system.
Orlov is one of the three recipients of this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament. The other two recipients are Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Sergey Kovalyov, the president of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute.