Alexandra Skochilenko was convicted of spreading “false information” after she replaced five supermarket price tags with criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russian artist Alexandra Skochilenko has been sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of spreading “false information” about the Russian military by replacing several supermarket price tags with messages criticizing the war in Ukraine.
The 33-year-old, known as Sasha, is one of thousands of Russians detained, fined or imprisoned for speaking out against Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor amid mounting attacks on free speech and opposition to President Vladimir Putin.
Skochilenko was arrested in her native St. Petersburg in April 2022 after an elderly supermarket customer found the slogans on price tags and notified police.
“The Russian army bombed an art school in Mariupol. About 400 people were hiding there before the shelling,” we read in one of the entries, referring to Russia’s brutal siege of a city in southern Ukraine. Another said: “Russian conscripts are being sent to Ukraine. The price of this war is the lives of our children.”
Judge Oksana Demiasheva issued the verdict on Thursday, hours after Skoczilenko, who suffers from a congenital heart defect and celiac disease, made his last statement to the court, asking for compassion and release.
In addition to the prison sentence, the artist received a three-year ban on using the Internet.
Skoczilenko, wearing a colorful T-shirt decorated with a large red heart, reacted with shock to this sentence, covering her face and wiping her tears.
Supporters shouted “shame” and “we are with you, Sasha,” the AFP news agency reported.
Skochilenko’s lawyers left without comment.
Skochilenko’s arrest came about a month after the authorities adopted a law effectively criminalizing any public statements about the war that deviate from the Kremlin’s official line.
Human rights organization Memorial – now banned in Russia – said police spent 10 days questioning supermarket workers and checking security camera footage before arresting the artist.
“Sometimes they pay less for murder than five price tags in a supermarket,” Boris Vishnevsky, a politician associated with the opposition Yabloko party, told AFP.
I hope that one day the pendulum will swing the other way.
Skoczilenko was accused of committing what the prosecutor described as a serious crime resulting from “political hatred” towards Russia. He demanded that she be sentenced to eight years in prison.
Skochilenko admitted to swapping the tags, but denied that the text written on them was fake. She said she was a pacifist and valued human life above all else.
“How weak is our prosecutor’s faith in our state and society if he believes that five small pieces of paper can ruin our statehood and public safety?” she said in court.
“Everyone sees and knows that you do not judge a terrorist. You’re not trying to be an extremist. You’re not even trying to become a political activist. You’re judging a pacifist,” she said.
Amnesty International condemned the verdict.
“Her persecution has become synonymous with the absurdly cruel oppression that Russians face for openly opposing the criminal war taking place in their country,” the statement said.
Memorial recognized Skochilenko as a political prisoner and launched a campaign for her release.
She has been in custody for almost 19 months, which means that her total sentence will be reduced by over two years, as each day of being in pretrial detention counts as 1.5 days of serving in a regular penal colony.
However, according to her lawyers and partner in custody, she had problems due to existing health problems and the need to follow a gluten-free diet.
A total of 19,834 Russians were arrested for speaking out or demonstrating against the war from February 24, 2022, when Russia launched its invasion, to the end of October 2023, according to OVD-Info, a prominent right-wing group that monitors political arrests and provides legal assistance.
Also on Thursday, opposition politician Vladimir Milov was convicted in absentia of spreading false information about the army and sentenced to eight years. Milov, once Russia’s deputy energy minister and now an ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has left the country.