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Russian Artist Jailed For 7 years for Swapping Supermarket Price Tags With Antiwar Slogans

Skochilenko admitted that he had exchanged the tags, but denied that the information on the tags was false. (AFP)

Moscow:

A Russian court on Thursday sentenced artist Aleksandra Skochilenko to seven years in prison for spreading “false information” about the military after exchanging supermarket price tags with slogans criticizing Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The 33-year-old, known as Sasha, is the latest of thousands of Russians to be detained, imprisoned or fined for opposing Kremlin military intervention.

An AFP reporter in the courtroom reported that after judge Oksana Demyasheva read the verdict, supporters chanted “too bad” and “we are with Sasha.”

Some people, mostly young people, held up banners reading “She should not go to jail,” but her lawyer left without making any comment.

Skochilenko was wearing a colorful T-shirt with a large red heart printed on it. She made a heart shape with her hands and smiled at her supporters during her hearing.

“Everyone in this room wants one thing: peace. Why fight?” she said in her closing statement.

“I just wanted to stop the war. That was my motivation,” Skochilenko said at an earlier hearing.

“They don’t contribute much to murder.”

“It is not Sasha who should be sent to prison, but the people who convicted her,” Anton, 20, who declined to give his full name citing safety concerns, told AFP after the verdict was announced.

On March 31 last year, as Russia pursued a brutal siege of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, Skochilenko replaced five price tags at a branch of Russia’s largest supermarket chain in St. Petersburg.

One of the messages included claims about a Russian attack on a theater in Mariupol that reportedly left hundreds dead.

Other tags read: “The price of this war is the lives of our children” and “Putin has been lying to us from our TV screens for 20 years.”

An elderly shopper reported the replaced tag to police.

Memorial, a human rights group now banned in Russia, said police spent 10 days interrogating supermarket employees and examining security camera footage before arresting Skochilenko.

Boris Vishnevsky, a politician with ties to the opposition Yabloko party, said: “Sometimes murder is cheaper than five supermarket price tags,” calling the sentence “retaliation.”

“I hope that one day the pendulum will change direction,” he told AFP.

Health “catastrophe”

“How weak is the prosecutor’s confidence in our state and society if he believes that just five small pieces of paper can destroy the status of the state and public safety?” Skochilenko said in court. He said this.

She admitted exchanging the tags but denied that the text on them was false.

“Everyone can see that you are not judging terrorists, you are not judging extremists, you are not judging political activists. You are not judging pacifists. I know that,” she said.

Skochilenko’s supporters, including exiled Russian artists and opposition activists, said the trial was absurd.

Skochilenko, who is openly gay, also said “hatred against minorities” in deeply conservative Russia could help explain the case against her.

She has health problems including celiac disease and congenital heart disease. Her mother recently told AFP that her long prison sentence would be a “catastrophe”.

Skochilenko, an illustrator and musician, participated in street protests in Russia during the first days of the Moscow Offensive.

One of her illustrations against intervention showed stick figures hugging each other, painted in the colors of the Russian and Ukrainian flags.

“Her persecution has become synonymous with the wanton and cruel repression faced by Russians who openly oppose their country’s criminal war,” rights group Amnesty International said after the verdict.

Memorial has declared Skochilenko a political prisoner and launched a campaign to have him released.

Most of Russia’s leading opposition figures, including Alexei Navalny, have fled the country or are in prison.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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