Moscow court rejects Kremlin critic’s appeal of prison term

Ilya Yashin, convicted in December for comments critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, says his conscience is clear.

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader, former Moscow municipal deputy Ilya Yashin stands inside a defendant's glass cage prior to a verdict hearing at the Meshchansky district court in Moscow, Russia, December 9, 2022. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
Former Moscow municipal deputy Ilya Yashin prior to a verdict hearing at the Meshchansky district court in Moscow, Russia, December 9, 2022. [File: Yuri Kochetkov/Pool/Reuters]

A Moscow court has dismissed a prominent Russian opposition figure’s appeal of his eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Ilya Yashin, 39, a longtime ally of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny, was convicted in December for statements he made on his YouTube channel about war crimes allegedly committed by Russian forces in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.

Yashin said on Wednesday that he had told the truth in his video and that his conscience was clear.

He asked for the Defence Ministry’s main spokesman – whose words he was accused of contradicting – to be summoned to the court, something the judge swiftly rejected, along with Yashin’s overall appeal, according to a Reuters reporter at the court.

The charges against him stemmed from a series of online posts discussing atrocities in Bucha, a town outside Ukraine’s capital where dead civilians were found in the streets and a mass grave after Russian troops withdrew.

During his trial last year, Yashin argued that a live-streamed YouTube video in which he talked about Ukrainians being killed in Bucha cited official Russian sources along with Ukrainian statements to give his audience an objective view.

“I will not renounce the truth behind bars,” he said, emphasising that he considered it his duty to tell the truth.

Yashin, one of the few prominent Kremlin critics to have stayed in Russia after President Vladimir Putin launched the military action in Ukraine, participated by video link in Wednesday’s Moscow City Court hearing on his ultimately unsuccessful appeal.

Moscow introduced sweeping censorship laws shortly after sending its armed forces into Ukraine in February last year. Those laws have since been used to silence dissenting voices.

Discrediting the army is punishable by up to five years in prison, while “deliberately spreading false information” about it, for which Yashin was convicted, carries a maximum of 15 years.

‘Stop this madness’

International human rights groups have denounced the sentence as a mockery of justice and called for Yashin’s immediate release.

Before his sentencing, Yashin addressed Putin directly, urging him to “immediately stop this madness, recognise that the policy on Ukraine was wrong, pull back troops from its territory and switch to a diplomatic settlement of the conflict”.

Asked at the time about the December 8 verdict, Putin replied that Yashin’s lawyers could appeal it.

Russian authorities have repeatedly used the law on discrediting the military to stifle dissent. A Russian court on Monday convicted top opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza of treason for publicly denouncing Moscow’s war in Ukraine and sentenced him to 25 years in prison as part of the Kremlin’s crackdown on critics of the invasion.

Source: News Agencies