By The Associated Press
A court in Moscow sentenced a municipal council member to seven years in prison Friday for his remarks opposing the war in Ukraine. The unprecedented sentence raises the stakes for Kremlin critics in Russia who speak out against Moscow’s invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor.
Alexei Gorinov was found guilty of spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian military, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison under a law the Russian parliament rubber-stamped a week after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine.
The 60-year-old member of Moscow’s Krasnoselsky municipal council is the first person sentenced to serve time behind bars for a conviction on that charge, according to Net Freedoms, a legal aid group focused on free speech cases.
The two other convictions so far led to a fine and a suspended sentence, the group said. Gorinov, who was arrested in April, is the first elected representative to face charges under the wartime law.
Gorinov criticized Russia’s military actions in Ukraine at a Moscow municipal council meeting in March. A video available on YouTube shows him voicing skepticism about holding a planned children’s art competition in his constituency while “every day children are dying” in Ukraine.
Photographs published by Russian media of a Friday court hearing showed Gorinov behind inside a glass-walled defendant’s dock and holding up a sign that read, “Do you still need this war?” A bailiff tried to cover the sign with his hands.
When President Vladimir Putin ordered the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, a massive wave of outrage and antiwar sentiment swept Russia. Thousands of people protested on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg daily, and hundreds of thousands signed online petitions opposing the attack.
The Kremlin insisted that what it called a “special military operation” in Ukraine had overwhelming public support, and moved swiftly to suppress any criticism. Thousands of protesters were arrested, and dozens of critical media outlets were shut down.
Individuals who spoke out publicly against the invasion or accused Russian troops of committing atrocities in Ukraine have been targeted under the new legislation, which outlawed the spread of “false information” about the invasion and disparaging the military.
As of Friday, Net Freedoms had counted 68 criminal cases involving false information charges and at least 2,000 misdemeanor cases for the alleged disparagement of the Russian military.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine