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Russian politician sentenced for Ukraine action criticism



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MOSCOW — A prominent Russian opposition figure on Friday was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison after being convicted of crimes stemming from his criticism of the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.

The sentencing of Ilya Yashin, one of the few Kremlin critics to have stayed in Russia, offers the latest sign of the Russian authorities stepping up their crackdown on dissent. International human rights groups denounced it as a mockery of justice and called for Yashin’s immediate release.

“With that hysterical verdict, the authorities wanted to scare us all but it really showed their weakness,” Yashin said in a statement through his lawyers after the judge approved the verdict. . “Only the weak want to silence everyone and erase all dissent.”

Yashin was accused of spreading misinformation about the military – a new offense added to the country’s criminal law after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine.

Speaking on Monday shortly before sentencing, Yashin spoke directly to Putin, urging him to “immediately put an end to this madness, realize that the policy towards Ukraine is wrong, withdraw troops out of their territory and move to resolve the conflict through diplomacy.”

Asked about the ruling at a news conference, Putin said he would not question the court’s ruling, adding that Yashin’s lawyers could appeal.

The charges against Yashin involve a YouTube live video in which he talks about Ukrainians being killed in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. He denied the allegations were politically motivated.

During his trial at the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow, Yashin argued that his case was fabricated and “had all the signs of illegal political persecution.” He noted that in the video he cited official Russian sources along with Ukrainian statements to give the audience an objective view.

In his final remarks, Yashin emphasized that he considers it his duty to tell the truth, saying, “I will not leave the truth behind bars.”

“When the fighting started, I didn’t hesitate for a second,” Yashin said. “I feel I should stay in Russia, speak the truth out loud and try to do all I can to stop the bloodshed. It is better to sit behind bars for a decade and still be an honest person than to silently feel ashamed that your government has shed blood.”

Human Rights Watch denounced Yashin’s sentence as part of “continued efforts to dismantle and decapitate Russia’s moderate political opposition” and demanded his immediate release. .

Rachel Denber, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, said: “The verdict against Yashin is a farce of justice and an act of cowardice, directed by what the Kremlin feels threatened by clear and vocal critics like him.

Amnesty International’s Russia director, Natalia Zviagina, notes that “heavy fines, imprisonment, loss of livelihood, harassment and physical assault are all used to silence protesters or spoke out against the war of aggression against Ukraine.” “In Russia today, telling the truth about human rights violations is actually considered a crime,” she said.

Days after Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, the Kremlin-controlled parliament passed legislation banning accusations of discrediting the Russian military or spreading “misinformation” about military activity. its presence in Ukraine.

As a result, dozens of independent Russian media outlets were banned and others announced that they would stop reporting on Ukraine.

Authorities also continue to label journalists and independent media outlets “foreign agents,” a term that carries a negative connotation and implies additional government surveillance.

The Russian Justice Ministry on Friday designated the online publication Bell and several individuals as “foreign agents”.

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