Russia Finds a War Critic Guilty of ‘Spreading False Information’
MOSCOW — A Russian court on Friday found an opposition politician, Ilya Yashin, guilty of charges of “spreading false information” about atrocities committed in the Ukrainian city of Bucha by Russian troops in February and March. He was to be sentenced later Friday.
Mr. Yashin, who pleaded not guilty, is among the highest-profile opposition politicians remaining in Russia. Before his arrest in July, he spoke about the war on his YouTube channel, often voicing criticism of President Vladimir V. Putin and his “special military operation.” While many Putin critics have fled Russia, especially immediately after its invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Yashin vowed to remain, even if it meant serving prison time.
Prosecutor Sergei Belov told the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow that Mr. Yashin had spoken “indiscriminately” about the coverage of the war by the Russian news media, and instead cited news produced by outlets from “unfriendly states: the United States and its satellites” that “supply instructors and weapons to Ukraine.”
The verdict against Mr. Yashin, who served in the Krasnoselsky district of Moscow, is the latest example of the Kremlin’s far-reaching attempts to silence any criticism, especially of its invasion of Ukraine.
In July, Alexei Gorinov, a deputy in the Krasnoselsky council, received a prison sentence of seven years on the same charge of knowingly spreading “false information” about the Russian army. Mr. Gorinov was sentenced for comments he made in March during a meeting of the local council when he suggested that a planned children’s drawing contest be postponed while children in Ukraine were dying.
In court on Friday, Mr. Yashin stood handcuffed in a glass cage, waving to supporters and making a peace sign, according to witnesses.
On Monday, in his closing statement, Mr. Yashin insisted that he had no regrets about what he had said about the violence in Bucha.
“When the war began, I didn’t doubt for a second what I must do,” he said. “I must be in Russia, I must speak the truth loudly, and I must do everything in my power to stop the bloodshed.” He added: “It’s better to spend 10 years behind bars as an honest man than to burn silently in shame for the blood being shed by your government.”
The verdict came on the heels of a decision Wednesday to declare Vesna, an antiwar movement that has opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “extremist” in closed-door proceedings.
Vesna was among the organizations that called for protests after the war began in February, and again in September after Mr. Putin announced the drafting of hundreds of thousands of men into the military.
At least 19,335 people have been detained at antiwar protests since Feb. 24, according to OVD-Info, a Russian human rights watchdog that monitors police activity.