A Russian court found opposition figure Ilya Yashin guilty on Friday of spreading “false information” about Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, the highest-profile conviction under new legislation criminalising criticism of the campaign.
The 39-year-old Moscow councillor is just the latest in a long line of Kremlin critics to have been sidelined in recent years, a crackdown that intensified after the conflict began in February.
Wearing a white sweatshirt and handcuffed, Yashin smiled and waved to his family during the session, an AFP journalist reported from the court.
Judge Oksana Goryunova said Yashin had committed a crime by disseminating “knowingly false information about Russia’s Armed Forces”.
In April, he had described the alleged murder of civilians in Bucha as a “massacre”, referring to a town near the capital Kyiv where civilians were found killed after Russian forces pulled back.
He is being tried under new laws that came into force after February, when fighting intensified in Ukraine, to penalise what the authorities deem to be damaging or false information about the Russian military.
The Moscow city councillor is an ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and was close to Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician assassinated near the Kremlin in 2015.
Yashin remained in Russia even after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 and regularly condemned the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine to his 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube.
– ‘Bulldozing of critical voices’ –
During his closing statements in the final hearing this month, he called on the Russian leader to “immediately stop this madness.”
“We need to recognise this policy towards Ukraine is wrong, to withdraw troops from its territory and move on to a diplomatic settlement of the conflict,” he said.
“I will not give up the truth even behind bars,” he added in closing statements.
Prosecutors, who had requested a nine-year prison term, previously argued that Yashin had “inflicted considerable damage to Russia” and “increased political tensions” when Russian troops were fighting in Ukraine.
Another hearing last month ended with a scuffle between court employees and Yashin’s father when it appeared that guards had told Yashin’s mother to stop talking to her son.
A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for authorities to release Yashin “immediately and unconditionally”.
“The bulldozing of critical voices continues,” spokesman Peter Stano said, describing the case “as politically motivated and unacceptable.”
Yashin was detained in late June while walking through a Moscow park and accused of spreading “fake” information about the Russian army.
Tens of thousands of Russians — including many independent journalists — left the country after the beginning of the conflict and when the Kremlin in September said it was drafting thousands of men into the army.
Another Moscow councillor, Alexei Gorinov, was sentenced to seven years in prison in July for speaking out against the Ukraine offensive.
Navalny, 46, is serving a nine-year sentence on embezzlement charges that are widely seen as politically motivated. His political organisations have been outlawed.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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