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Ilya Yashin, Russian war critic, sentenced to eight years for ‘fake news’



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RIGA, Latvia — A Russian court on Friday sentenced an opposition politician, Ilya Yashin, to eight years and six months in prison on charges of “spreading false information” about atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine — the latest criminal conviction aimed at silencing critics of President Vladimir Putin’s war.

Yashin, 39, posted a YouTube video in April in which he dissected potential war crimes recorded by Western journalists and Ukrainian officials in the city of Bucha, near Kyiv, in an attempt to refute the Kremlin’s official position that the reports were staged or fabricated. to smear Russia.

The Kremlin in the early days of the invasion took active steps to stave off criticism of the war by passing legislation that made it illegal to criticize the military or the government, or even make phone calls. War is a “war” rather than a special military operation. , with violations punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

While there have been dozens of prosecutions, the law has been selectively enforced to target longtime Putin opponents such as Yashin, while pro-war hawks and electric propagandists have been criticized. The Kremlin is allowed to join in the harsh criticism of Russian military commanders, who have suffered heavy losses on the battlefield.

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin was jailed for eight and a half years on December 9 for spreading “misinformation” about the military. (Video: Reuters)

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Yashin’s YouTube video forms the basis of a criminal case initiated against him under the new law, which also prohibits the dissemination of what authorities consider “fake news” about the Russian military.

The threat of long prison sentences and the Kremlin’s far-reaching efforts to quell any dissent have driven thousands of Russians out of the country, but some, like Yashin. , decided to stay.

Shortly after the verdict was delivered, Yashin’s lawyers posted a defiant message on his Telegram blog, urging his supporters to continue to oppose the invasion.

“The trial was supposed to denounce the ‘enemy of the people,’ i.e. me, but it turned into an anti-war court, and in response we heard only sporadic Cold War slogans by the prosecutor,” the post read. “I can only repeat what I said the day I was arrested: I am not afraid, and you should not be. Changes are coming.”

Yashin is a veteran of the anti-Kremlin opposition, who rose to prominence in mass protests against rigging parliamentary elections and Putin’s return to the presidency in 2011 and 2012. Later. , Yashin leads the PARNAS party and holds the post of city official in the Krasnoselsky district of Moscow .

During hearings this week on Yashin’s case, the prosecutor, Sergei Belov, accused the politician of spreading “Western propaganda” from “unfriendly countries such as the United States and satellites” their”.

“Yashin directly distributes low-quality enemy propaganda material,” Belov said. “While our soldiers are on the front lines and millions of citizens support the army, Yashin is helping the enemy.”

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In courtroom speeches throughout the trial, Yashin spoke of the need to stay in Russia to “speak the truth” and help stop bloodshed in Ukraine.

“Better to live 10 years behind bars as an honest man than to quietly burn in shame because your government has shed blood,” he said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Putin, when asked by a reporter at a Friday press conference if he thought “eight years for a word is too brutal” said of Yashin: “Who is he? Interference in the affairs of the country is unacceptable and I think it is inappropriate to question the court’s decision.”

Yashin is a close ally of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is also currently serving a long prison sentence for breaching parole terms on charges stemming from a scam widely derided as politically motivated. In August 2020, Navalny was nearly killed in a poison attack carried out by a Russian government strike team.

“I’ve known Ilya Yashin since he was 18, and he was probably the first friend I made in the political arena,” Navalny said in a message shared by his lawyers on Friday. on social networks. “Another shameless and lawless judgment by Putin will not silence Ilya and should not threaten the honest people of Russia. This is another reason we have to fight and I have no doubt we will win in the end.”

News of the verdict was cheered by pro-war commentators. One said Yashin should “make military gloves with Navalny. Another called him “the holder of the Nazis and the garbage of freedom.”

Human rights advocates say Yashin is being persecuted for his political views.

“Ilya Yashin has spoken out about some of the atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine with full awareness of the personal risks,” said Rachel Denber, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. core. “That should never be the basis for legal action, but the Kremlin continues to relentlessly suppress high-profile pro-democracy figures and opponents of Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

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Since the start of the invasion, Russian authorities have arrested, detained or fined nearly 20,000 peaceful war protesters and individuals who openly voiced opposition to the war.

Yashin’s sentence is the harshest of nearly 100 criminal cases initiated by Russian prosecutors in the eight months since the new law was passed. In July, Moscow deputy city chief Alexei Gorinov was sentenced to seven years in prison on similar charges after he held a public meeting with a minute of silence for those who died in the war.

In April, a Russian court charged the Washington Post dissident and contributor Vladimir Kara-Murza in the same article, after he called the Russian government a “regime of killers” in an interview. On Thursday, Russian media reported that Kara-Murza would remain in pre-trial detention until February 12.

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