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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Russian Jailed For Swapping Supermarket Price Tags With Anti-War Slogans

Skochilenko admitted to swapping the tags but denied text written on them was false. (AFP)


A Russian court on Thursday sentenced artist Alexandra Skochilenko to seven years in prison for spreading “false information” about the army after she swapped supermarket price tags with slogans criticising Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

The 33-year-old, known as Sasha, is the latest among thousands of Russians to be detained, jailed or fined for speaking out against Moscow’s military intervention.

Supporters shouted “shame” and “we’re with you Sasha” after the judge, Oksana Demiasheva, read out the verdict, an AFP journalist in court reported.

Some, mainly young people, pulled out banners saying “she should not go to prison”, while her lawyers left without giving any comment. 

Skochilenko wore a colourful T-shirt with a large red heart printed on it. She made a heart shape with her hands and smiled to supporters during the hearing.

“Every person in this room wants only one thing: Peace. Why fight?” she said in a closing statement.

Skochilenko had said in an earlier hearing that she “just wanted to stop the war. That was my motivation”. 

‘They give less for murder’

“It’s not Sasha who should go to prison, but the people who convicted her,” 20-year-old Anton, who declined to give his full name, citing security concerns, told AFP after the verdict was announced.

On March 31 last year — as Russia pursued a brutal siege of Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol — Skochilenko replaced five price tags in a branch of one of Russia’s largest supermarket chains in Saint Petersburg.

One of the messages included claims about a Russian strike on a theatre in Mariupol that was reported to have left hundreds dead.

“The cost of this war is the life of our children” and “Putin has been lying to us from television screens for 20 years” were written on other tags.

An elderly shopper reported the swapped tags to police. 

Human rights group Memorial — now banned in Russia — said police spent 10 days interrogating supermarket staff and inspecting security camera footage before arresting Skochilenko.

“They sometimes give less for murder than for five price tags in a supermarket,” said Boris Vishnevsky, a politician linked to the opposition Yabloko party, describing the ruling a “reprisal”. 

“Hopefully someday the pendulum will turn the other way,” he told AFP.

Health ‘catastrophe’

“How weak is our prosecutor’s faith in our state and society if he thinks our statehood and public safety can be ruined by five little pieces of paper?” Skochilenko said in court.

She has admitted to swapping the tags, but denied that the text written on them was false.

“Everyone sees and knows that you are not judging a terrorist. You’re not trying an extremist. You’re not even trying a political activist. You’re judging a pacifist,” she said. 

Skochilenko’s supporters, who include exiled Russian artists and opposition activists, have said the trial is absurd.

Skochilenko, who is openly gay, has also said that “hatred towards minorities” in deeply conservative Russia could help explain the trial against her.

She suffers from health issues — including coeliac disease and a congenital heart defect. Her mother recently told AFP that a long prison term would be a “catastrophe”.

An illustrator and musician, Skochilenko joined street protests in Russia in the first days of Moscow’s offensive.

One of her illustrations against the intervention depicted stickmen hugging, painted in the colours of the Russian and Ukrainian flags.

“Her persecution has become synonymous with the absurdly cruel oppression faced by Russians openly opposing their country’s criminal war,” rights group Amnesty International said after the verdict. 

Memorial has designated Skochilenko a political prisoner and has launched a campaign calling for her release.

Most of Russia’s high-profile opposition figures have fled the country or are behind bars, including Alexei Navalny.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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