A Russian court has handed down a seven-year prison sentence to a protest artist for replacing grocery store price tags with anti-war stickers. This is just one of many attacks on dissent in the country, which has faced significant international criticism for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
In April of 2022, over one month following the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Sasha Skochilenko was arrested by St. Petersburg authorities and accused of disseminating misleading information through her protest artwork.
A small sign in Russian stated, “The arts school in Mariupol was bombed by the Russian army, with approximately 400 people seeking shelter inside during the shelling.” Another sign expressed concern over the deployment of Russian conscripts to Ukraine, stating that the lives of children are at stake in this war.
A customer at the grocery store notified local law enforcement, leading to the swift arrest of Skochilenko.
She was arrested about a month after a law was passed prohibiting public protests against the war.
Skochilenko, 33, is not the only pacifist to have been punished by authorities. The legislation has been deployed against a wide array of dissenters, from opposition politicians and human rights activists to everyday Russians.
According to OVD-Info, a human rights group that tracks political arrests, approximately 19,834 individuals from Russia were detained for their political views between February 24, 2022 and October 2023, during the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Skochilenko admits to switching the price tags for anti-war signs, but refutes the accusation that she intentionally attempted to deceive the public.
According to Yana Nepovinnova, the lawyer representing her, her goal was not to condemn the military, but rather to call for an end to the ongoing conflict.
Nepovinnova described her as a highly compassionate and pacifistic individual. The concept of “war” and the pain it inflicts on people are particularly distressing to her.
According to Mediazona, a Russian news organization, Skochilenko declared the charges against her as “strange and absurd” during her final statement in court on Thursday.
She stated that even her captors are confused by the accusation against her, and often express disbelief by saying, “Is this really a reason for imprisonment nowadays?”
The prosecutor’s colleague resigned, stating to one of Skochilenko’s attorneys that they did not want to be a part of the Investigative Committee to handle cases like the one involving Sasha Skochilenko.
“I want to make it clear that it is evident to everyone that the individual on trial is not a terrorist,” Skochilenko stated to the judge during the hearing on Thursday. “This person is not an extremist or a political activist, but rather a pacifist.”
According to Mediazona, there were many supporters of Skochilenko in the courtroom who cheered and chanted her name in the hallway after the verdict was announced.
For over 18 months, Skochilenko has been detained before trial, dealing with multiple health issues such as heart problems, bipolar disorder, and celiac disease, according to her attorneys.
Sofya Subbotina, Sasha’s partner, expressed concern about the possibility of Skochilenko serving her sentence in a distant penal colony without access to medical care.
The Associated Press provided some information for this report.