Monday March 04, 2024

More Kremlin critics are being imprisoned in Russia as intolerance of dissent grows

Published : 16 Nov 2023, 23:17

  DF News Desk
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny looks at photographers from inside a glass cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, on Feb. 20, 2021. File Photo: AP /Alexander Zemlianichenko.

Russia under President Vladimir Putin has been closing in on those who challenge the Kremlin, reported AP.

Protesters and activists have been arrested or imprisoned, independent news outlets have been silenced, and various groups have been added to registers of "foreign agents" and "undesirable organizations."

The crackdown has been going on for years.

But it increased within days of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, when Russia adopted a law criminalizing the spreading of "false information" about the military, effectively outlawing any public expression about the war that deviated from the official narrative. Scores of people have been prosecuted under the new law, and those implicated in high-profile cases have been given long prison terms.

One such case concluded Thursday in St. Petersburg, Russia's second largest city, where a court sentenced artist and musician Sasha Skochilenko to seven years in prison after she replaced several supermarket price tags with slogans decrying the war.

Other notable cases of both opposition figures and ordinary Russians caught up in the crackdown:

ALEXEI NAVALNY

Putin's most persistent and inventive critic, Navalny has been in prison for more than two years, serving a 19-year prison term.

The lawyer first gained prominence by publishing corruption investigations of Russian companies, and the work expanded into a broad political portfolio. Navalny finished second in the 2013 mayoral elections in Moscow and sought to run for president in 2017-18, but was eventually barred from the race. He repeatedly served jail terms for organizing protests that reached across the country, and has several criminal convictions on his record — including three that resulted in prison terms — that he maintains are politically motivated.

In 2020, Navalny became severely ill and fell into a coma while visiting a Siberian city. He was airlifted to Germany, where he was found to have been poisoned with a nerve agent. During his months of recovery, he released a recording of a call he said he made to an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service who purportedly carried out the poisoning.

After that, authorities said his recuperation in Germany violated the terms of a suspended sentence from an earlier conviction. Navalny nevertheless returned to Moscow in January 2021, where he was arrested at the airport. He was ordered to serve 2½ years in prison, and in 2022 was convicted of other charges and given a nine-year term. Another conviction this year, on extremism charges, turned that into 19 years behind bars.

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA

A prominent opposition figure, Kara-Murza was convicted in April of treason and sentenced to 25 years in prison, a particularly severe show of the authorities' intensifying intolerance for dissent.

The charges against Kara-Murza, who has been behind bars since his arrest in 2022, stem from a speech that year to the Arizona House of Representatives in which he denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The political activist and journalist, who twice survived poisonings he blamed on Russian authorities, has rejected the charges against him as punishment for standing up to Putin and likened the proceedings to the show trials under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

ILYA YASHIN

One of the few well-known Kremlin critics to have stayed in Russia after the start of the war, Yashin was arrested in June 2022 while walking in a Moscow park and was sentenced to 8½ years in prison on a conviction of spreading false information about Russian soldiers.

The charge stemmed from a livestream on YouTube in which he talked about civilians killed in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. After Russian forces withdrew from the area in March 2022, hundreds of corpses were found in the town, including some with their hands bound and shot at close range.

ANDREI PIVOVAROV

Pivovarov headed the opposition group Open Russia, but authorities declared it an "undesirable" organization and it was disbanded in 2021. Days later, as he attempted to leave the country, he was pulled off a Warsaw-bound airliner that was about to take off for St. Petersburg.

He was convicted last year of carrying out activities of an undesirable organization and sentenced to four years.

ALEXEI GORINOV

Gorinov, a member of a Moscow municipal council, was the first person to be sentenced to prison under the law penalizing the spread of "false information" about the Russian military after the invasion of Ukraine.

He was arrested a year ago after criticizing the war at a municipal council meeting. A YouTube video shows him voicing skepticism about holding a planned children's art competition in his constituency while "every day children are dying" in Ukraine.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

DMITRY IVANOV

A student activist, Ivanov was arrested in April 2022 over social media posts on his Telegram channel that called Russia's campaign in Ukraine a "war" and talked about Russian forces attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Most were reposts from other sources.

Ivanov was charged with spreading false information about the army, and in March was convicted by a Moscow court and sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison.

At the time of his arrest, Ivanov was a student at Lomonosov Moscow State University, one of Russia's top schools and known as MSU. He ran a popular Telegram channel called Protest MSU, which was launched in 2018 to cover student demonstrations against the construction next to the university's main building of a fan zone for the World Cup soccer tournament hosted by Russia that year.

While in custody, he missed his final exams and failed to submit his final dissertation, leading to his expulsion from the university.

ALEXEI MOSKALYOV

Moskalyov was not famous — just a 54-year-old single father of a 13-year-old girl in a provincial town. After his daughter refused to participate in a patriotic class at school and made a drawing labeled "Glory to Ukraine," he was investigated by police and found to have made social media posts critical of the war.

He was sentenced to two years in prison, but fled house arrest hours before the sentence was handed down. He was arrested in neighboring Belarus and extradited to Russia.

ZHENYA BERKOVICH AND SVETLANA PETRIYCHUK

Berkovich, a prominent independent theater director who also wrote antiwar poems, and playwright Petriychuk have been behind bars since their arrest in May, awaiting trial on charges of justifying terrorism.

Authorities allege that "Finist, the Brave Falcon," a play written by Petriychuk and staged by Berkovich, justifies terrorism, a criminal offense punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The play depicts Russian women who faced prosecution after being lured into marriage and life in Syria by representatives of radical Islam. It was staged in 2021 and a year later won two Golden Masks, Russia's most prestigious state-sponsored theater award.

GRIGORY MELKONYANTS

Melkonyants, co-chair of Russia's leading election watchdog Golos, was arrested in August and charged with being involved with an "undesirable" organization.

Golos was founded in 2000 and has played a key role in independent monitoring of balloting. Over the years, it has faced mounting pressure from authorities. It was designated as a "foreign agent" — a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations.

Golos once was part of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations, which in 2021 was declared "undesirable" in Russia. Under a 2015 law, anyone involved with groups carrying that label can be charged with a criminal offense.