(New York) – A Moscow court on December 9, 2022, sentenced a Russian opposition politician to eight and a half years in prison with an additional four-year ban on use of the internet, in continued efforts to dismantle and decapitate Russia’s peaceful political opposition and silence any criticism of the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, Human Rights Watch said today.
Ilya Yashin, who has long been a vocal critic of the Kremlin, was charged with violating Russia’s draconian war censorship laws. Yashin should be immediately and unconditionally freed, and the criminal case against him quashed.
“Ilya Yashin spoke out about some of Russian forces’ atrocities in Ukraine in full knowledge of the personal risks,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “That should never be grounds for legal action, yet the Kremlin relentlessly continues to persecute high-profile pro-democracy figures and opponents of Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
The prosecution brought charges of disseminating “false information” about Russian armed forces “motivated by political hatred” against Yashin for speaking out via social media about the atrocities that Russian forces committed in Bucha, the city outside of Kyiv formerly occupied by Russian troops, and sought a nine-year prison sentence with an additional four-year ban on use of the internet.
In his statement to the court, Yashin said that the authorities isolated him from society and kept him in prison to silence him, and that he would not stop telling the truth, even from behind bars.
Yashin was detained in late June 2022 on bogus charges of not complying with police orders and sentenced to 15 days in detention. But instead of releasing him after he finished his sentence in July, the authorities indicted him under the “false information” charges. He has remained in detention ever since.
Yashin was a close friend of the murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and an ally of Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has been in detention since April, also on charges of “false information” for criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine and two other equally unfounded charges.
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities have arrested, fined, or detained thousands for peaceful anti-war protests and anti-war speech, and filed over 100 criminal cases on charges of dissemination of “false information” about or “discreditation” of Russian armed forces in the context of the war.
In July, Alexey Gorinov, a municipal council member in Moscow, whom Yashin called his “comrade,” became the first person to be sentenced to prison time on “false information” charges for publicly talking about the war in Ukraine and civilian casualties there. His original seven-year prison sentence was reduced by only one month on appeal in September.
“The verdict against Yashin is a travesty of justice and an act of cowardice, directed by a Kremlin that feels threatened by vocal and visible critics like him,” Denber said. “That is no excuse to deprive him of his liberty and rights. They should immediately and unconditionally free Yashin, Kara-Murza, Gorinov, and others persecuted on these spurious charges and drop all charges against them.”