A Russian artist who replaced supermarket price tags with messages calling for an end to Moscow’s war in Ukraine was jailed for seven years on Thursday for knowingly spreading false information about the Russian army.
A court in St Petersburg delivered the verdict hours after the artist, 33-year-old Alexandra Skochilenko, had made a final statement to the court, asking the presiding judge to exercise wisdom and compassion and to set her free.
Skochilenko was banned from using the internet for the next three years in addition to the seven-year prison term. A state prosecutor had asked for her to be jailed for eight years.
Her supporters repeatedly chanted “Disgrace, Disgrace!” after the verdict as a smiling Skochilenko made a heart shape with her hands as she stood in the courtroom cage which was ringed by police officers.
The artist, who has already spent over a year-and-a half in prison, has admitted replacing price tags in a supermarket on March 31, 2022, with pieces of paper urging an end to the war and criticizing the authorities.
But she had denied the formal charge of knowingly spreading false information about the army.
Critics say the case is part of a crackdown on anyone who speaks out against Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, which has led to nearly 20,000 detentions and over 800 criminal cases.
After sending troops into Ukraine early last year, Russia tightened its laws on dissent to try to silence critics as it contests what President Vladimir Putin portrays as an existential struggle with the West.
In her final statement, Skochilenko had told the judge that she was a pacifist who valued human life above all else.
“Whatever decision you take, you’ll go down in history,” Skochilenko told the judge, according to a recording of her speech made by supporters.
“You can show how to resolve conflict with the help of words and compassion.”
Skochilenko’s lawyers had told the court their client had committed no crime and would not survive jail because of coeliac disease, a severe intolerance of gluten. Amnesty International has declared her a “prisoner of conscience”.
Skochilenko had also addressed the state prosecutor who had demanded a long jail term for her during her final statement.
“What will you tell your children? That one day you jailed a seriously ill beloved artist for five pieces of paper?” she said.
“I’m not afraid, and maybe that’s precisely why my government is so afraid of me, and keeps me in a cage like the most dangerous of animals.”