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Russian artist sentenced to seven years in prison for protesting price tag | Human Rights News

Alexandra Skochilenko was found guilty of spreading “false information” after replacing five supermarket price tags with criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russian artist Alexandra Skochilenko was sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of spreading “false information” about the Russian military by replacing a handful of supermarket price tags with messages critical of the war in Ukraine.

The 33-year-old, known as Sasha, is among thousands of Russians arrested, fined or jailed for speaking out against Moscow’s invasion of his neighbor, amid a growing crackdown on freedom of speech. expression and opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

Skochilenko was arrested in her hometown of St. Petersburg in April 2022, after an elderly supermarket customer found the slogans on the price tags and notified the police.

“The Russian army bombed an art school in Mariupol. Some 400 people were hiding there to escape the bombings,” it reads, referring to Russia’s brutal siege of the southern Ukrainian city. Another said: “Russian conscripts are being sent to Ukraine. The lives of our children are the price of this war.

Judge Oksana Demiasheva delivered the verdict Thursday hours after Skochilenko, who has a congenital heart defect and celiac disease, made a final statement in court, asking for compassion and to be released.

In addition to the prison sentence, the artist was banned from using the Internet for three years.

Skochilenko, wearing a colorful T-shirt decorated with a large red heart, reacted with shock to the sentence, covering her face and wiping away tears.

Supporters shouted “shame” and “we are with you Sasha,” the AFP news agency reported.

Skochilenko’s lawyers left without comment.

Skochilenko’s arrest came about a month after authorities passed a law effectively criminalizing any public expression about the war that deviated from the Kremlin’s official line.

Human rights group Memorial – now banned in Russia – said police spent 10 days questioning supermarket staff and inspecting security camera footage before arresting the artist.

“They sometimes give less for one murder than for five price tags in a supermarket,” Boris Vishnevski, a politician linked to the opposition Yabloko party, told AFP.

“I hope that one day the pendulum will swing the other way.”

Skochilenko was accused of committing what the prosecutor called a serious crime out of “political hatred” toward Russia. He had asked that she be sentenced to eight years in prison.

Skochilenko admitted to swapping the labels, but denied that the text written on them was false. She said she was a pacifist who valued human life above all else.

“How low is our prosecutor’s faith in our state and our society if he thinks our state and our public safety can be ruined by five little pieces of paper? she told the court.

“Everyone sees and knows that you do not judge a terrorist. You’re not trying an extremist. You’re not even trying to be a political activist. You are judging a pacifist,” she said.

Friends and supporters of Skochilenko called the verdict a shame (Olga Maltseva/AFP)

Amnesty International condemned the verdict.

“His persecution has become synonymous with the absurdly cruel oppression faced by Russians who openly oppose their country’s criminal war,” he said in a statement.

Memorial designated Skochilenko a political prisoner and launched a campaign calling for her release.

She has already been in detention for almost 19 months, which means that her total sentence will be reduced by more than two years, since each day spent in a pre-trial detention center counts as 1.5 days spent in a regular penal colony.

But she struggled in detention due to pre-existing health conditions and her need to follow a gluten-free diet, according to her lawyers and partner.

According to OVD-Info, a major rights group that monitors political arrests and provides legal aid, a total of 19,834 Russians were arrested between February 24, 2022, when Russia began its invasion, and the end of October 2023. for denouncing or demonstrating against the war. .

Also on Thursday, opposition figure Vladimir Milov was found guilty in absentia of spreading false information about the army and sentenced to eight years in prison. Milov, who was once Russia’s deputy energy minister and is now an ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has left the country.

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