A Russian court has sentenced the opposition politician Ilya Yashin to eight and a half years in prison, in the most high-profile case to date of a Russian dissident being jailed for opposing the invasion of Ukraine.
Yashin was tried on charges of spreading false information meant to discredit the Russian army, under a law introduced after Russia launched its invasion, due to a series of posts in May about the murder and torture of Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops in the town of Bucha.
“Expressing hatred of the political system of the Russian Federation and realising that he is a public person … Yashin created a real threat to the formation of a negative attitude towards the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” read the verdict, which was delivered in Moscow’s Meshchansky district court.
A veteran of Russia’s anti-Putin opposition, Yashin was one of a small group of vocal opponents to the war who chose not to leave the country, saying earlier this year that he believed that “anti-war voices sound louder and more convincing if the person remains in Russia”.
In a courtroom speech this week, Yashin said: “I must remain in Russia, I must speak the truth loudly, and I must stop the bloodshed at any cost. It physically pains me to think how many people have been killed in this war, how many lives have been ruined, and how many families have lost their homes. You cannot be indifferent. And I swear I do not regret anything.”
He added: “It’s better to spend 10 years behind bars as an honest man than quietly burn with shame over the blood spilled by your government.”
Yashin joins a small group of other prominent dissenters who have been imprisoned for speaking out against the war.
In July, a Russian city councillor was sentenced to seven years in prison after he spoke critically of a children’s drawing contest. “What kind of children’s drawing contest can we talk about for Children’s Day … when we have children dying every day?” he had said, the key piece of evidence against him in the trial.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, another veteran opposition member, has also been charged with spreading false information about the army. Some media reports say he has also been charged with treason.