Russian artist who used supermarket price tags to criticise Ukraine war faces verdict

  • World
  • Thursday, 16 Nov 2023

FILE PHOTO: Artist Alexandra (Sasha) Skochilenko, who is charged with spreading false information about Russia's armed forces by means of replacing supermarket price tags with slogans protesting against the country's military campaign in Ukraine, is escorted by police officers before a court hearing in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 14, 2023. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo

(Reuters) - A Russian artist who replaced supermarket price tags with messages calling for an end to Moscow's war in Ukraine is expected to learn her fate in court on Thursday with a state prosecutor asking for her to be jailed for eight years.

Critics say the case of Alexandra Skochilenko, 33, is part of a crackdown on anyone who speaks out against Russia's "special military operation" that has led to nearly 20,000 detentions and over 800 criminal cases.

After it sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year, Russia tightened its laws on dissent to try to silence critics Moscow regards as unacceptably divisive when the country is locked in what President Vladimir Putin has portrayed as an existential struggle with the West.

Skochilenko, an artist and musician known as Sasha to her friends, has admitted replacing price tags in a supermarket in her native St Petersburg on March 31 2022 with small pieces of paper urging an end to the war and criticising the authorities.

But Skochilenko, who has already spent over a year-and-a half in prison, denies the formal charge of knowingly spreading false information about the Russian army.

A state prosecutor has asked the presiding judge to give her an eight-year jail term and ban her from using the Internet for three years for what he had called a serious crime committed out of hatred for Russia.

Her lawyers have told the court their client had only acted on her conscience, had committed no crime, and would not survive jail because of pre-existing health problems.

Skochilenko is due to make a final statement on Thursday to a court in St Petersburg which is expected to deliver a verdict on the same day.

Amnesty International has declared Skochilenko "a prisoner of conscience" - someone who is imprisoned solely because of who they are or what they believe.

One of her lawyers, Yana Nepovinnova, told the court on Monday that her client should be acquitted.

"You should never punish people for thinking and feeling differently. You should never punish people for objective criticism of the authorities and their decisions," she said.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Barbara Lewis)

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