A Moscow court on Friday sentenced a city councillor to seven years in prison for denouncing President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Alexei Gorinov, 60, is the first elected member of the opposition to be sentenced to jail for criticising Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
He was found guilty of spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian army.
Standing in the glass defendant’s box, the grey-haired Gorinov in a checked shirt held a piece of paper that read “Do you still need this war?”
A uniformed bailiff used his hands in an effort to cover the words from the camera, before Gorinov removed it himself.
“This was all decided before,” he said as he was handed the prison term.
His wife Alla cried in court when the sentence was read out, and some supporters stood up to applaud him, before being removed from the courtroom.
Gorinov is accused of discrediting the Russian army under strict legislation that rights activists say is part of Moscow’s increasing efforts to snuff out the last vestiges of dissent.
He spoke up against Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine during a work meeting in March that was recorded on video and is available on YouTube.
During his speech, he questioned plans for an art competition for children in his constituency while “every day children are dying” in Ukraine.
Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva said Gorinov committed the crime “as part of a group of persons by prior agreement based on political hatred.”
She said he and another deputy, Yelena Kotyonochkina who has since fled Russia, “misled” Russians over the Kremlin’s military campaign in Ukraine and caused them to “feel anxiety and fear.”
Russian society is reeling from a historic crackdown on dissent which has intensified since Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24.
Criticism of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine — including the use of words like “war” and “intervention” — has essentially been banned in the country.
– ‘Public execution’ –
Supporters slammed the verdict.
Leonid Volkov, a top ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, called it a “public execution” to discourage any form of protest against Moscow’s military campaign.
“In this way, the Kremlin also betrays the weakness of its positions — when even the most innocent rhetoric turns out to be dangerous for their narratives – and suggests a path to action,” he said on messaging app Telegram.
Outside the court, an 80-year-old woman held a bag with the words “no to war” written on them.
During his trial, Gorinov had continued to speak out against what the Kremlin has termed a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
“No matter what you call it, war is the dirtiest, vilest thing there is,” he said in court on Thursday.
“Why are many of my compatriots feeling ashamed and guilty? Why did so many leave?” he said, referring to an exodus of liberal-minded Russians from the country.
In March, Russia passed into law prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading false information aimed at discrediting its military forces.
On Wednesday, parliament introduced harsh prison terms for calls to act against national security and criminal liability for maintaining “confidential” cooperation with foreigners.
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