Counted among one of Russia's most renowned opposition politicians, Ilya Yashin has been sentenced to eight and a half years imprisonment for spreading fake news about the Kremlin's army. He was also very much vocal about Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
Yashin had denied the charge but was found guilty for saying that occupying Russian forces in Ukraine were responsible for the massacre of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha earlier this year. Russian investigators said Yashin's statements about the circumstances of the killings in Bucha are a criminal offense.
Judge Oksana Goryunova, of Meshchansky District Court, established that the 39-year-old Moscow city councillor had committed crime by disseminating knowingly false information about the country's armed forces.
Russia made reporting false information a crime following the invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. The new law considers discrediting the Russian armed forces to be illegal.
Ally of Alexei Navalny
Yashin is a close ally of jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny. He is one of the hundreds of Russians to face prosecution under new laws that criminalize spreading information contradicting the Kremlin line about the ongoing Ukraine war. Yashin is an active participant in the Strategy-31 campaign for freedom of assembly. And in 2005, he spoke against the Nashi movement which supports Putin. In 2010, he was arrested for demonstrating in Moscow for Strategy-31, whereby he was detained for 15 days.
Yashin was arrested in 2012 for attempting to join a Moscow protest following the alleged kidnapping and torture of opposition activist Leonid Razvozzhayev from Kyiv, Ukraine. And in June 2022, he was arrested and sentenced to 15 days of detention for disobeying a police officer. Yashin said the charge was politically driven and intended to suppress his political stance towards the war in Ukraine.
Yashin is said to be the most high-profile figure to be sentenced under the raft of fake news legislation introduced in March. Although 366 people have been fined or jailed to date for supposedly discrediting the Russian military, this is the longest sentence handed out under the legislation.
The politician slammed the verdict as "hysterical". "The authors of the verdict are optimistic about Putin's prospects," Yashin said on his official Telegram account. "In my opinion, they are too optimistic. But we also have no reason to be sad because we have won this trial, friends."
He said the process started as a denunciation of him as "people's doctor", but turned into an anti-war tribune. "We spoke the truth about war crimes and called for an end to the bloodshed. And in response, they heard a hodgepodge of slogans from the Cold War, which was confusedly voiced by the prosecutor."
Yashin believes the Kremlin wants to intimidate the people but it only shows its weakness. "Strong leaders are calm and self-confident, and only weaklings seek to shut everyone up, burn out any dissent. So today, it only remains for me to repeat what was said on the day of my arrest â 'I am not afraid, and you should not be'."
Undeterred by the harsh sentencing, Yashin addressed President Vladimir Putin saying "As if they will sew my mouth shut and I would be forbidden to speak forever. Everyone understands that this is the point."