February 3, 2023

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Russia finds a war critic guilty of “spreading false information”.

MOSCOW – A Russian court on Friday found an opposition politician, Ilya Yashin, guilty of “spreading false information” about atrocities committed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian city of Bucha in February and March. He was due to be sentenced later on Friday.

Mr Yashin, who pleaded not guilty, is among the most high-profile opposition politicians remaining in Russia. Before his arrest in July, he spoke about the war on his YouTube channel, frequently criticizing President Vladimir V. Putin and his “special military operation”. While many critics of Putin have fled Russia, particularly immediately after its invasion of Ukraine, Yashin has vowed to stay, even if it means serving a prison sentence.

Prosecutor Sergei Belov told Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court that Mr Yashin spoke “indiscriminately” about Russian news media’s coverage of the war, instead quoting news produced by media outlets from “unfriendly states: the United States and its satellites.” had been. who “supply trainers and weapons to Ukraine”.

The verdict against Mr Yashin, who served in Moscow’s Krasnoselsky District, is the latest example of the Kremlin’s wide-ranging attempts to silence any criticism, particularly of its invasion of Ukraine.

In July, Alexei Gorinov, a member of the Krasnoselsky Council, was sentenced to seven years in prison on the same charge of knowingly disseminating “false information” about the Russian army. Mr Gorinov was convicted over remarks he made during a local council meeting in March when he proposed postponing a planned children’s drawing competition at a time when children are dying in Ukraine.

According to witnesses, Mr Yashin stood in court handcuffed in a glass cage on Friday, waving at supporters and making a peace sign.

On Monday, in his closing statement, Mr Yashin insisted that he had no regrets about what he said about the violence in Bucha.

“When the war started, I didn’t doubt for a second what I had to do,” he said. “I have to be in Russia, I have to speak the truth out loud, and I have to do everything in my power to stop the bloodshed.” He added: “It’s better than an honest man to spend 10 years behind bars, than to silently burn with shame at the blood shed by your government.”

The verdict followed Wednesday’s decision to declare Vesna, an anti-war movement that has opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “extremist” in a closed trial.

Vesna was among organizations that called for protests after the war began in February, and again in September after Mr Putin announced the conscription of hundreds of thousands of men into the military.

At least 19,335 people have been arrested in anti-war protests since February 24, according to OVD-Info, a Russian human rights watchdog who monitors police activities.