In Russia, protesters risk prison charges to speak out about Ukraine

by Staff writer Associated Press from United States

April 14, 2022

In Russia, a law was passed last month that outlaws the spread of “false information” about the invasion of Ukraine and disparaging the military. Now, hundreds of Russians are facing charges and possible prison sentences for speaking out against the war.

147836Police officers (left) prepare to detain Dmitry Reznikov holding a blank piece of paper with eight asterisks that could have been interpreted as standing for "No to war" in Russian, with the Kremlin in the background in Moscow, Russia, March 13, 2022. SOTA/AP/File

A former police officer who discussed Russia’s invasion on the phone. A priest who preached to his congregation about the suffering of Ukrainians. A student who held up a banner with no words – just asterisks.

Hundreds of Russians are facing charges for speaking out against the war in Ukraine since a repressive law was passed last month that outlaws the spread of “false information” about the invasion and disparaging the military.

Human rights groups say the crackdown has led to criminal prosecutions and possible prison sentences for at least 23 people on the “false information” charge, with over 500 others facing misdemeanor charges of disparaging the military that have either led to hefty fines or are expected to result in them.

“This is a large amount, an unprecedentedly large amount” of cases, said Damir Gainutdinov, head of the Net Freedoms legal aid group focusing on free speech cases, in an interview with The Associated Press.

The Kremlin has sought to control the narrative of the war from the moment its troops rolled into Ukraine. It dubbed the attack a “special military operation” and increased the pressure on independent Russian media that called it a “war” or an “invasion,” blocking access to many news sites whose coverage deviated from the official line.

Sweeping arrests stifled antiwar protests, turning them from a daily event in large cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg into rare occurrences barely attracting any attention.Still, reports of police detaining single picketers in different Russian cities come in almost daily.Even seemingly benign actions have led to arrests.

A man was detained in Moscow after standing next to a World War II monument that says “Kyiv” for the city’s heroic stand

against Nazi Germany and holding a copy of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Another was reportedly detained for holding up a package of sliced ham from the meat producer Miratorg, with the second half of the name crossed off so it read: “Mir” – “peace” in Russian.

A law against spreading “fake news” about the war or disparaging the military was passed by parliament in one day and took force immediately, effectively exposing anyone critical of the conflict to fines and prison sentences.

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Last edited 4/20/2022 7:08:55 PM

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