Russian father convicted over anti-war comments held in Belarus

Russian father convicted over anti-war comments held in Belarus

Moskalev came under fire after his 13-year-old daughter, Masha, drew a picture criticizing the war in Ukraine. (Photo: OVD-Info)
Moskalev came under fire after his 13-year-old daughter, Masha, drew a picture criticizing the war in Ukraine. (Photo: OVD-Info)

Aleksei Moskalyov, a Russian father convicted over anti-war comments on social media in a ruling that put his custody of his 13-year-old daughter in jeopardy, was detained in Belarus after fleeing house arrest, his lawyer said Thursday.

Aleksei Zakhvatov, the lawyer for Moskalyov, said in a statement on Telegram, a social messaging application, that his client was detained Wednesday with the help of the Belarusian KGB, the main security agency in the country. Belarus is a close ally of Russia.

Moskalyov, who is a single father, fled house arrest on the eve of the final hearing of his case in a court in the Russian town of Yefremov, 150 miles (240 kilometres) south of Moscow. After his conviction Tuesday, he was sentenced to two years in prison for “discrediting” the Russian army in a series of social media posts criticising atrocities, committed by Russia’s forces in Ukraine.

The case garnered national and international attention partly because of Moskalyov’s teenage daughter, Maria. Nicknamed Masha, she was separated from her father and transferred into state care in early March, after Moskalyov, 54, was detained and placed under house arrest. She has not been able to speak to him since, according to his lawyer.

Moskalyov’s social media posts came to the attention of authorities after Masha got in trouble at school for drawing a pro-Ukrainian picture last year. The girl’s mother has not been involved in her upbringing since the child was 3, and there are no other close relatives to take care of her, Zakhvatov said.

Man jailed for over daughter’s anti-war drawing flees house arrest (Video: South China Morning Post)

For human rights advocates, the prospect of long-term separation for father and child highlighted a chilling new level of repression in a country where the Kremlin has been tightening the screws on all forms of public dissent. Thousands of Russians have been charged with criticising Russia’s war in Ukraine since the full-scale invasion last year, according to OVD-Info, a rights group that tracks such cases.

The case also provoked criticism from unlikely corners of Russian society. Yevgeny Prigozhin — the head of the Wagner private military company, whose fighters have been at the forefront of Russia’s war effort in eastern Ukraine — signed a letter this week that called the sentence against Moskalyov “unjust, especially in view of the fact that his daughter Masha will have to grow up in an orphanage.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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