Saturday May 25, 2024

Russia seeks 8-year prison term for artist who protested Ukraine war

Published : 08 Nov 2023, 23:09

  By DASHA LITVINOVA, AP
Sasha Skochilenko, a 33-year-old artist and musician, walks escorted by officers to the court room for a hearing in the Vasileostrovsky district court in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Oct. 19, 2023. File Photo: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP.

Russian authorities on Wednesday demanded an eight-year prison term for an artist and musician who was jailed after speaking out against Moscow's war in Ukraine.

Sasha Skochilenko was arrested in her native St. Petersburg in April 2022, on charges of spreading false information about the military after replacing supermarket price tags with antiwar slogans decrying the invasion.

Her arrest took place about a month after authorities adopted a law effectively criminalizing any public expression about the war in Ukraine that deviates from the Kremlin's official line. The legislation has been used in a widespread crackdown on opposition politicians, human rights activists and ordinary Russians critical of the Kremlin, with many receiving lengthy prison terms.

Skochilenko is on trial, and the prosecution delivered closing arguments Wednesday, asking the court to convict her and sentence her to eight years in prison. Independent Russian news site Mediazona cited Skochilenko as saying that she was "in shock" over the severity of the sentence being sought.

The 33-year-old has been held in pre-trial detention for nearly 19 months. She has struggled due to several health problems, including a congenital heart defect, bipolar disorder and celiac disease, requiring a gluten-free diet, her partner, Sofya Subbotina, has told The Associated Press.

Almost daily court hearings in recent months put additional pressure on Skochilenko — the tight schedule often prevented her from getting meals. At one point, the judge called an ambulance to the courthouse after she fell ill, telling the court it was her second straight day without any food. At another hearing, she burst into tears after the judge rejected a request for a break so that she could eat or at least use the bathroom.

Russia's most prominent human rights group and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Memorial, has declared Skochilenko a political prisoner.

According to OVD-Info, another prominent rights group that monitors political arrests and provides legal aid, a total of 19,834 Russians have been arrested between Feb. 24, when the war began, and late October 2023 for speaking out or demonstrating against the war.

Nearly 750 people have faced criminal charges for their antiwar stances, and over 8,100 faced petty charges of discrediting the army, punishable by a fine or a short stint in jail.