A Moscow court on Thursday upheld a prison sentence against Nobel Prize-winning rights advocate Oleg Orlov, after the campaigner compared Russia's justice system to that of Nazi Germany.

Orlov, 71, appealed a two-and-a-half-year term he was handed after calling Russia a "fascist" state and criticising its Ukraine campaign.

His arrest and sentencing for breaching Russia's strict military censorship laws triggered international outcry, seen as a marker of how far the Kremlin was prepared to go in quashing dissent and targeting independent voices.

A judge at the Moscow city court on ordered the original conviction be left "unchanged," an AFP journalist reported from the hearing.

Orlov used the court session -- the result of which was not in doubt -- to double-down on his criticism of the Kremlin and repeat his comparisons of President Vladimir Putin's Russia to Adolf Hitler's Germany.


Speaking via video link from prison in the central city of Syzran, Orlov quoted a passage from a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials against Nazi German war criminals to describe Russia's judicial system.

"They distorted, perverted and in the end achieved the total destruction of justice and law. They made the judicial system an integral part of the dictatorship," he told the court.

Orlov said the passage was first delivered by Telford Taylor, a senior US prosecutor at the trials.

"These words can be uttered now by any Russian political prisoner. These words are surprisingly appropriate to characterise the current state of the Russian judicial system," Orlov said.

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- No regrets -

Russia had ruled that Orlov discredited its armed forces in a column written for French media in which he said Russia had descended into a "fascist" state and pointed to the "mass" killing of civilians in Ukraine.

The Kremlin denies targeting civilians in what it calls a "special military operation."

Speaking to journalists via video link to the court before the session, Orlov stood by those comments.


"I do not regret or repent anything. I am in the right place at the right time. I am helping draw attention to mass repression," he said, before the sound from the feed was cut.

Orlov is an instrumental figure in Memorial, the Nobel Prize winning human rights organisation.

Under his guidance, Memorial established itself as a key pillar of Russian civil society by preserving the memory of victims of communist repression.

It also campaigned against rights abuses in modern Russia, with a particular focus on the volatile North Caucasus region -- work that drew increasing scorn from the Kremlin.

Russia disbanded the organisation in late 2021, amid an accelerating crackdown against dissenters, opposition group, independent media and NGOs.

In 2022 Memorial was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside imprisoned Belarusian rights campaigner Ales Bialiatski and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties.

- 'Dark place' -

Several prominent Russian human rights activists and campaigners were in court on Thursday to support Orlov.

They included fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, long-time editor-in-chief of the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Most of Russia's independent civil society has been destroyed by a years-long Kremlin campaign, with almost all senior figures either in jail or exile.


Orlov's arrest and sentencing triggered uproar among Russian rights advocates and internationally.

US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy said in February after Orlov's sentencing that she was "alarmed and concerned," adding that the Kremlin was "dragging the country back into a dark, dangerous and isolated place."

Orlov was initially fined over the charges in 2023, but Russian prosecutors appealed the relatively lenient sentence and a second trial saw him jailed for two and a half years.

Russia has imprisoned hundreds of people for speaking out against its offensive on Ukraine.

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