Kremlin critic Yashin jailed over Ukraine remarks

Kremlin critic Yashin jailed over Ukraine remarks

Moscow city councillor, sentenced to 8 1/2 years, the latest in a long line of sidelined critics

A Russian court has sentenced opposition figure Ilya Yashin to eight and a half years in jail for spreading
A Russian court has sentenced opposition figure Ilya Yashin to eight and a half years in jail for spreading "false information" about Russia's offensive in Ukraine. (AFP Photo)

MOSCOW: Russia on Friday sentenced opposition figure Ilya Yashin to eight and a half years in jail for spreading "false information" about Russia's offensive in Ukraine, the highest-profile conviction under new legislation criminalising criticism of the campaign.

The 39-year-old Moscow councillor is just the latest in a long line of Kremlin critics to have been sidelined in recent years, a crackdown that intensified after the conflict began in February.

His supporters in the courtroom applauded Yashin, who smiled and waved to family despite being handcuffed, as the sentence was read.

Judge Oksana Goryunova said Yashin had committed a crime by disseminating "knowingly false information about Russia's armed forces" and sentenced him to eight years and six months in a penal colony.

In April, he had described the alleged murder of civilians in Bucha as a "massacre", referring to a town near the capital Kyiv where civilians were found killed after Russian forces pulled back.

He is being tried under new laws that came into force after February, when fighting intensified in Ukraine, to penalise what the authorities deem to be damaging or false information about the Russian military.

The Moscow city councillor is an ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and was close to Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician assassinated near the Kremlin in 2015.

"Another shameless and lawless verdict from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will not silence Ilya and it should not intimidate Russia's honest people," Navalny said on Instagram shortly after the verdict.

Navalny, 46, is serving a nine-year sentence on embezzlement charges that are widely seen as politically motivated. His political organisations have been outlawed.

'Bulldozing of critical voices'

Yashin remained in Russia even after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 and regularly condemned the Kremlin's offensive in Ukraine to his 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube.

During his closing statements in the final hearing this month, Yashin called on the Russian leader to "immediately stop this madness".

"We need to recognise this policy towards Ukraine is wrong, to withdraw troops from its territory and move on to a diplomatic settlement of the conflict," he said.

"I will not give up the truth even behind bars," he added.

Prosecutors previously argued that Yashin had "inflicted considerable damage to Russia" and "increased political tensions" when Russian troops were fighting in Ukraine.

Another hearing last month ended with a scuffle between court employees and Yashin's father when it appeared that guards had told Yashin's mother to stop talking to her son.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for authorities to release Yashin "immediately and unconditionally".

"The bulldozing of critical voices continues," spokesman Peter Stano said, describing the case "as politically motivated and unacceptable".

Yashin was detained in late June while walking through a Moscow park and accused of spreading "fake" information about the Russian army.

Tens of thousands of Russians — including many independent journalists — left the country after the beginning of the conflict and when the Kremlin in September said it was drafting thousands of men into the army.

Another Moscow councillor, Alexei Gorinov, was sentenced to seven years in prison in July for speaking out against the Ukraine offensive.

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