Russian artist receives seven-year sentence for anti-war protest

Russian artist Alexandra Skochilenko, who had replaced price tags with anti-war messages in a St. Petersburg grocery store as an act of protest, was sentenced to seven years in jail by a court in the Russian city on Thursday.

According to the court’s press service, Skochilenko was found guilty of “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

The prosecution claimed that in March last year, Skochilenko “placed paper fragments containing deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in places for attaching commodity price tags” in a chain supermarket in St. Petersburg.

Despite Skochilenko pleading not guilty to the charge and the defense seeking acquittal, the court imposed a seven-year sentence with a three-year ban on activities related to using “electronic or information and telecommunication networks,” the press service said in a Telegram post.

Skochilenko has been kept in pretrial detention since April 2022, a period of time in which her health has been deteriorating, according to the independent investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

In her last statement in court prior to the announcement of the verdict on Thursday, Skochilenko questioned the perceived threat posed by her actions, stating, “How little faith does our prosecutor have in our state and society if he believes that our statehood and public safety can be destroyed by five small pieces of paper?”

Describing herself as a pacifist, Skochilenko said she did not understand the purpose of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. “Today, scientists and doctors around the world are fighting to increase human life expectancy and find cures for deadly diseases. Therefore, I don’t understand: what is (this) war for? War shortens lives. War is death,” she added, according to a courtroom correspondent for the independent news outlet Mediazona.

Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, Marie Struthers, condemned the conviction.

In a statement, Struthers decried the “manifestly unjust verdict,” highlighting that Skochilenko had been “arbitrarily deprived of her freedom and held in torturous conditions for 19 months.”

Skochilenko “was simply trying to expose … Russian aggression against the people of Ukraine,” Struthers continued. “Her persecution has become synonymous with the absurdly cruel oppression faced by Russians openly opposing their country’s criminal war.”

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