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Artist Sasha Skochilenko sentenced to 7 years in prison for spreading “false information” about Russia’s army

Alexandra (Sasha) Skochilenko, an artist from St. Petersburg held in pre-trial detention since April 2022, has received a seven-year prison sentence for spreading “false information” about the Russian army, allegedly motivated by “political hatred,” as reported by the independent publication Mediazona. The case was heard in St. Petersburg’s Vasileostrovsky Court.

Skochilenko maintained her innocence, stating that her actions were aimed at “protecting the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens.” Citing health concerns, the artist stressed the potential life-threatening risk of imprisonment due to the unavailability of qualified medical help.

The prosecution had previously sought an eight-year prison term for the artist. Skochilenko faced imprisonment for swapping price tags in a grocery store with stickers containing information about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Sasha Skochilenko delivered her final statement in court. The Insider publishes excerpts from her address:

“Your Honor! Honorable court! Despite all the attempts to break me with the help of [state] investigators, confinement in a pre-trial detention center, starvation, [the] harassment of cellmates and disgusting living conditions, I still do not admit my guilt that I publicly disseminated ‘knowingly false information under the guise of reliable reports containing data on the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, the maintenance of international peace and security, as well as containing data on the execution by the state bodies of the Russian Federation of their rights and obligations to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, the maintenance of international peace and security.’ [...]
What I still do not agree with is that I acted ‘on the grounds of political hatred and enmity, on the grounds of hatred and enmity towards any social group.’ As our expert linguist explained, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are not a social group at all, and the state prosecutor failed to specify which social group I allegedly felt hatred and enmity towards.
I am fully convinced that I acted in order to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, as well as to maintain international peace and security. But I am afraid that I understand the vague wording of the article differently than the esteemed court and the state prosecutor. [...]
I do not deserve a prison sentence also because my state of health leaves much to be desired. I have many chronic diseases, including some that require constant medical attention. If my heart defect becomes more extensive and my mitral valve leaflet deflects further, I will need urgent surgery — but getting a test that can detect that is almost impossible behind bars, and even if it is agreed and carried out, it may be too late.
I am not a dangerous person to society, but rather a useful one. Being at liberty, I can do a lot of good: before my arrest, I was involved in socially important projects, including charitable ones, which has been confirmed by positive references from reputable organizations, such as the Higher School of Economics, Perspektivy, 12 Colleges and Paralympik. [...]
Even though I am behind bars, I am freer than you. I can make my own decisions, I can say whatever I think, I can quit my job if I'm forced to do something I don't want to do. I have no enemies, I'm not afraid of being left without money or even without a roof over my head.
I'm not afraid of not having a brilliant career, of appearing ridiculous, vulnerable or weird. I am not afraid of being different. Perhaps that's why my state is so afraid of me and my kind and keeps me in a cage like a dangerous beast.”

The court session in Sasha Skochilenko’s case took place on November 14 in St. Petersburg’s Vasileostrovsky Court, and was open to the public, contrary to Judge Oksana Demyasheva's earlier statements of holding it behind closed doors. She had vowed not to allow spectators in due to “disruptive applause” in the courtroom, which had led her to postpone the hearing the previous day.

On November 13, the audience began clapping after the artist's lawyer Yana Nepovinnova, who said that Skochilenko's case about price tags “would have seemed wild a couple of years ago.”

Demyasheva shouted over the applause with the words “We're not in a circus!” and asked that the bailiffs remove anyone who was “clapping too hard” from the courtroom. Lawyer Yuri Novolodsky and the audience tried to object, but Demyasheva left the room, promising to return once the audience members who clapped too loudly had also left. Having come back, Demyasheva adjourned the session. She also forbade those present to take photos and videos of the proceedings.

Sasha Skochilenko faces several significant health issues, including a congenital heart defect, gluten intolerance, and bipolar disorder. In her recent statement, the artist described daily stomach pain and serious heart problems. She previously appealed to the judges to consider the detrimental impact of pre-trial detention on her well-being and requested house arrest. Her plea was rejected.

Skochilenko experienced deprivation of food, water, and restroom access during her trial. Sessions were strategically scheduled, forcing her to return to the pre-trial detention center after bedtime, with new sessions set for the following morning. This scheduling prevented her from having regular meals, leading to a period of starvation lasting over a day. To ensure Skochilenko could eat, her lawyers collectively took sick leave, resulting in the cancellation of scheduled meetings.

Skochilenko was detained on April 11, 2022, following a search of her home. State investigators alleged that on March 31, the artist spread information about the Russian Armed Forces in a Perekrestok supermarket by replacing price tags with messages about civilians killed in the shelling of the Mariupol Drama Theater. The investigator deemed the distributed information as “false,” while the act itself was to be viewed as “driven by political hatred.” Russia’s Investigative Committee believes that Skochilenko “was aware of the actual state of affairs in the theater of war.”

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