Russia Sentences Activist to Penal Colony for Antiwar Notes on Price Tags

A Russian court has sentenced a pacifist artist to seven years in a penal colony for leaving price tags with small antiwar messages in a supermarket, the latest example of the Kremlin’s resolve to stamp out opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The artist, Aleksandra Y. Skochilenko, 33, was found guilty on Thursday of spreading false information about the Russian Army — a criminal offense introduced shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year — for placing the messages at her local supermarket in St. Petersburg.

One of the price tags, which had been a part of a wider online antiwar campaign by a rights group, read: “4,300 Russian soldiers died in the first days of the war. Why were television networks silent about it?” Another stated: “The Russian Army bombed an art school in Mariupol where about 400 people were hiding from shelling.”

Since Ms. Skochilenko’s arrest in April 2022, her case has become one of the most prominent examples of the government’s crackdown on dissent. Her seven-year sentence underscores the high cost of any type of antiwar activity in Russia.

Standing in a courtroom cell in a brightly colored oversize shirt on Thursday, Ms. Skochilenko said that by prosecuting her, the state was drawing more attention to her antiwar message.

“Wars don’t end because of warriors — they end at the initiative of pacifists,” she told the courtroom, according to a recording posted by her supporters on the Telegram social messaging app. “When you put pacifists in jail, you make the long-awaited day of peace only more distant.”

Dmitri G. Gerasimov, Ms. Skochilenko’s lawyer, told Sota Vision, a Russian news outlet, that the verdict would be appealed. “Seven years to a young woman who suffers from a number chronic diseases and was never been sentenced before is a very tough punishment,” he said.

Dozens of people came to the court in St. Petersburg to support Ms. Skochilenko. They shouted “Shame!” and “Sasha,” diminutive for Aleksandra, after the judge read her verdict, according to videos from the courtroom.

The Kremlin has been stating openly that the Russian state will not tolerate dissent in wartime. In an interview broadcast on Friday, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told 360, a Russian television network that “today is a very tough military period that demands tough measures from the government.”

“There should be a form of censorship at the time of war,” Mr. Peskov said.

Some Russians appear to have received the message. According to Russian court statistics, the number of administrative charges for “discrediting” the Russian Army — which effectively means any form of criticism of its activities in Ukraine — halved in the first half of 2023 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Russian lawyers have attributed the drop to the chilling effect of cases such as Ms. Skochilenko’s.

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.

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