Russia jails artist for 7 years over Ukraine supermarket protest
November 16, 2023 08:03 PM
Russia sentenced artist Alexandra Skochilenko to seven years in prison on Thursday for spreading disinformation about the army after she swapped supermarket price tags with slogans criticising Russia's offensive in Ukraine.
The 33-year-old, who goes by Sasha, is just the latest among thousands of Russians who have been detained, jailed or fined for speaking out against Moscow's large-scale military intervention.
Her supporters in the courtroom shouted "shame" and "we're with you Sasha" after the judge Oksana Demiasheva read out the verdict, an AFP journalist at the sentencing reported.
Skochilenko wore a colourful T-shirt with a large red heart printed on it, and she made a heart shape with her hands and smiled to supporters during the hearing.
"Every person in this room wants only one thing: Peace. Why fight?" she said in a closing statement.
- 'Five peaces of paper' -
Skochilenko was detained in April last year around the same time as Russia's brutal siege of Ukraine's port city of Mariupol.
Skochilenko, who is openly gay, has also said that "hatred towards minorities" in deeply conservative Russia could help explain the trial against her.
"It's not Sasha who should go to prison, but the people who convicted her," 20-year-old Anton, who declined to give his full name citing security concerns, told AFP after the verdict was announced.
Boris Vishnevsky, a politician linked to the opposition Yabloko party described the ruling to AFP as a "reprisal".
"Hopefully someday the pendulum will turn the other way," he added.
Skochilenko had said in an earlier hearing that she "just wanted to stop the war. That was my motivation".
On March 31 last year, Skochilenko replaced five price tags in a branch of one of Russia's largest supermarket chains in Saint Petersburg.
One of the messages included claims about a Russian strike on a theatre in Mariupol that was reported to have left hundreds dead.
"The cost of this war is the life of our children" and "Putin has been lying to us from television screens for 20 years" were written on other tags.
An elderly shopper reported the swapped tags to the police.
Human rights group Memorial -- now banned in Russia -- said police spent 10 days interrogating supermarket staff and inspecting security camera footage before arresting Skochilenko in her apartment.
- Health 'catastrophe' -
"How weak is our prosecutor's faith in our state and society if he thinks our statehood and public safety can be ruined by five little pieces of paper?" Skochilenko said in court.
She has admitted to swapping the tags, but the text written on them was false.
"Everyone sees and knows that you are not judging a terrorist. You're not trying an extremist. You're not even trying a political activist. You're judging a pacifist," she said.
Skochilenko's supporters, who count among them exiled Russian artists and opposition activists, have said the trial is absurd.
She suffers from health issues -- including coeliac disease and a congenital heart defect. Her mother recently told AFP that a long prison term would be a "catastrophe".
An illustrator and musician, Skochilenko joined street protests in Russia in the first days of Moscow's offensive.
One of her illustrations against the intervention depicted stickmen hugging, painted in the colours of the Russian and Ukrainian flags.
Memorial has designated Skochilenko a political prisoner and has launched a campaign calling for her release.
Most of Russia's high-profile opposition figures have fled the country or are behind bars, including Alexei Navalny.