Russia jails city councillor for 7 years over Ukraine criticism
A Moscow court Friday sentenced a city councillor to seven years in prison for denouncing President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Alexei Gorinov, 60, is the first elected member of the opposition to be sentenced to jail for criticising Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
He was found guilty of spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian army.
Standing handcuffed in the glass defendant’s box, grey-haired Gorinov in a checked shirt unfolded a piece of paper that read: “Do you still need this war?”
Much of the courtroom stood in applause as he held the paper against the glass.
A uniformed bailiff used his hands to try and cover the words from cameras, before Gorinov removed it himself.
“This was all decided before,” he said as he was handed the prison term.
His wife Alla cried in court when the sentence was read out.
“We lived 32 years together. I thought we would go on living happily,” she told reporters after the ruling, her voice breaking.
“I will wait for him. He is the best.”
Gorinov is accused of discrediting the Russian army under strict legislation that rights activists say is part of Moscow’s increasing efforts to snuff out the last vestiges of dissent.
He spoke up against Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine during a work meeting in March that was recorded on video and is available on YouTube.
During his speech, he questioned plans for an art competition for children in his constituency while “every day children are dying” in Ukraine.
Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva said Gorinov committed the crime “as part of a group of persons by prior agreement based on political hatred.”
She said he and another deputy, Yelena Kotyonochkina who has since fled Russia, “misled” Russians over the military campaign in Ukraine and caused them to “feel anxiety and fear”.
Russian society is reeling from a historic crackdown on dissent which has intensified since Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24.
Criticism of Russia’s military intervention — including the use of words such as “war” and “intervention” — has essentially been banned.
“Today, my client was given seven years in a penal colony for his words, opinions and convictions,” said Gorinov’s lawyer Katerina Tertukhina.
Amnesty International called the sentence “shocking”, saying the “official investigation into Gorinov’s case took only five days”.
Outside the court, around 40 people of different ages gathered to show their support.
One 80-year-old woman held a bag with embroidered Russian folk symbols and flowers, with the hand-sewn words reading, “No to war”.
Police encircled the white-haired woman in sunglasses and tried to lead her away, but the small crowd shouted, “Let her go”, and they ceded.
“It is important to be together and see that there are people who are really against what is happening, against repressive laws and share generally pacifist views,” said 39-year-old Nataliya Chichilanova, with dyed pink hair.
Vladimir Roslov, an 82-year-old pensioner, said the harsh sentence was intended as a “warning” to others who want to speak out against Russia’s offensive.
“If there had not been such a harsh sentence, then there would have been grounds to accuse the judge of disobedience to the president,” he said.
Russia’s exiled opposition also slammed the verdict.
Leonid Volkov, a top ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, called it a “public execution” to discourage any form of protest against Moscow’s campaign.
During his trial, Gorinov had continued to speak out against what the Kremlin has termed a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
“No matter what you call it, war is the dirtiest, vilest thing there is,” he said on Thursday.
In March, Russia passed into law prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading false information aimed at discrediting its military forces.
On Wednesday, parliament introduced harsh prison terms for calls to act against national security and criminal liability for maintaining “confidential” cooperation with foreigners.