A judge in Russia has sentenced lesbian artist Alexandra Skochilenko, 33, to serve seven years in prison for criticising the Russian military.
On March 31, 2022, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, Skochilenko, who goes by the name Sasha, replaced price tags on items at a Perekrestok supermarket with a series of five stickers containing anti-war slogans. The stickers accused the armed forces of committing genocide, called Putin a liar, and described Russia as a fascist state.
According to the Kyiv Post, some of the slogans printed on the tags said: “The cost of this war is the life of our children” and “Putin has been lying to us from television screens for 20 years”.
A witness notified police about Sasha’s stickers, and the authorities spent ten days interrogating supermarket staff and reviewing security footage before arresting Skochilenko in her apartment on April 11, 2023.
Skochilenko was charged with violating Article 207.3 of Russia’s Criminal Code, a controversial law enacted after the start of the war which penalises criticism of the Russian government and military. Judge Oksana Demyasheva sentenced the lesbian artist to prison for allegedly spreading false information about the Russian armed forces and the government’s use of its authority. As well as the prison term, Skochilenko was banned from using the internet for three years.
During the trial, Sasha confessed to leaving the messages, but she denied committing any crimes, saying she was only telling the truth. In an Instagram statement directed to the judge, she said, “You may think of this information differently than my lawyers or I do, but you will agree that I have my moral principles and that I haven’t departed from them, not by an inch. You will probably agree that I have shown courage, resilience, and fearlessness.”
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Skochilenko said, “The state prosecutor said repeatedly that these five tiny pieces of paper were exceptionally dangerous to our state and society. What weak faith our prosecutor has in our national society if he thinks that our state and our common security might collapse because of these tiny papers!”
She added, “What harm did I do? Who suffered because of my act?”
After the verdict was announced, the crowd gathered in the courtroom expressed their dissent, shouting “Shame!” and “We’re with you, Sasha!” and calling for her release.
Sasha lives with several health issues, including coeliac disease and a congenital heart defect. Her mother said a long prison term in a Russian penal colony which resembles a labour camp, would be a “catastrophe” for the lesbian artist.
Russian artist Sasha Skochilenko, open lesbian, pacifist, mental health advocate, jailed for SEVEN YEARS.
Sasha replaced five supermarket price tags with pieces of paper urging shoppers to stop the war 🇺🇦
Sasha is sick and might not survive 7 years of penal colony (more like a… pic.twitter.com/sGomkUDTAz
— pussy riot • nadya (@nadyariot) November 16, 2023
In the last two decades, Russia has become increasingly hostile toward the LGBTQ+ community. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly referenced the need to maintain “traditional values” and protect Russia from Westernised LGBTQ+ ideologies.
In July of this year, Vladimir Putin signed severe legislation which officially outlaws trans people from seeking gender-affirming care in Russia, impacting thousands of transgender individuals and their families. Putin also ordered clinics to treat LGBTQ+ people for having a “mental disorder,” reversing the country’s decision to remove same-sex attraction from the list of mental disorders in 1999.
The news about the lesbian artist’s sentence follows a motion filed by the Russian Ministry of Justice on November 17 for the Supreme Court to label the “international public LGBT movement” as an extremist group to be banned within the country.
The ministry claims that the LGBTQ+ community movement exhibits “signs and manifestations of extremist nature” in Russia. Human rights activists have condemned the motion, saying it represents an attempt to create an internal enemy during Russia’s war with Ukraine.
It is unclear whether the proposed ban means that anyone in the LGBTQ+ community would be subject to criminal prosecution, or only official organisations. The Supreme Court is set to consider the motion on November 30.
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