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A Russian court on Tuesday convicted a single father over social media posts criticizing the war in Ukraine and sentenced him to two years in prison — a case brought to the attention of authorities by his daughter’s drawings against the invasion at school, according to his lawyer and activists.
The case of Alexei Moskalyov, who was indicted in his hometown of Yefremov, about 186 miles south of Moscow and a similar distance north of the Ukrainian border, has drawn international attention and is a grim indication that the Kremlin is intensifying its crackdown on dissent, targeting more people and handing out harsher punishments for any expression of criticism of the war.
In a twist to the case, the 54-year-old Moskalyov fled house arrest overnight, court officials said, and wasn’t present for the outcome of his trial. He had been wearing a bracelet that tracked his movements but apparently had taken it off.
Moskalyov was accused of repeatedly discrediting the Russian army, a criminal offense in accordance to a law Russian authorities adopted shortly after sending troops into Ukraine.
He was indicted for a series of social media posts about Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine and referencing the “terrorist” regime in Moscow. But, according to his lawyer and activists who supported him throughout the case and trial, his troubles started last spring after his 13-year-old daughter, Maria, drew an antiwar picture at school that depicted missiles flying over a Russian flag at a woman and child and said, “Glory to Ukraine.”
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In April 2022, Moskalyov was fined for his critical comments on social media. His apartment was raided in December and a criminal case was opened against him this month. He was placed under house arrest and his daughter was taken away from him and placed into an orphanage.
At the trial, which concluded in one day Monday, three teachers and the director of Maria’s school testified that they randomly found Moskalyov’s “discrediting” social media posts and that Maria’s drawing had nothing to do with the case — contradicting the accounts of his lawyer and other supporters.
Moskalyov rejected the accusations and insisted that he had nothing to do with the social media posts in question.
In a short closing statement, Moskalyov said he was “against” what the Kremlin insists on calling a “special military operation.”
Alexei Moskalyov sits in a courtroom in Yefremov, Russia, on March 27, 2023. A court in Russia convicted Moskalyov of criticizing the war in Ukraine on social media and sentenced him to two years in prison. (AP Photo)
“How can one feel about death, about people who are dying? Adults are dying, children. … Only negatively — how else can one feel about a war?” he was quoted as saying by Russia’s independent news site Mediazona.
Moskalyov’s lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko said afterward that he learned of his client’s disappearance at the court hearing. Moskalyov was scheduled to appear in court again next week at a hearing on a petition to restrict his parental rights.
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Biliyenko told The Associated Press the authorities’ petition to restrict Moskalev’s parental rights was based solely on his political views and the fact that he was being prosecuted for discrediting the army. He said the authorities alleged this posed a threat to his daughter.
Biliyenko described the prosecution of Moskalyov as “bullying of the family.”
The lawyer visited Maria in the orphanage Tuesday and told reporters that while he wasn’t able to see her, local administrators allowed him to photograph a letter she wrote to her father, which ended with, “Daddy, you’re my hero.”
Olga Podolskaya, a member of Yefremov’s municipal council who has been helping Moskalyov, told AP that father and the daughter clearly love each other, and the decision to take Maria away was politically motivated.
Podolskaya said the news that Moskalyov escaped house arrest shocked her.
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“We’re all really worried, including Alexei’s lawyer,” she told AP by phone after the hearing.
Russian human rights activists note that the Kremlin has ramped up pressure on those disagreeing with the party line. The OVD-Info rights group that tracks political cases and provides legal aid this month has registered an increase in prison sentences for people prosecuted for their antiwar stance, said Daria Korolenko, the group’s lawyer and analyst.
“Repressions are picking up speed,” Korolenko told AP in a phone interview, adding that the numbers are expected to continue growing.