A Moscow court on Friday sentenced Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin to eight years and six months in prison, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti, in a blow to what remains of the country’s opposition.
It is unclear whether Yashin’s prison sentence for spreading “false information” about the Russian military includes the time he has already spent in prison during the court hearing.
Russian investigators say that his statements about the circumstances of the murders in Bucha are a criminal offense under recently introduced legislation, which considers discrediting the Russian armed forces as illegal.
Yashin slammed the “authors” of the “hysterical verdict” in a post on his official Telegram account.
“The authors of the verdict are optimistic about Putin’s prospects. In my opinion, they are too optimistic,” he said.
“But we still have no reason to be sad, because we won this process, friends. The process started as a denunciation of me as a “people’s doctor”, but it turned into an anti-war forum. We spoke the truth about war crimes and we asked for an end to the bloodshed. And in response, they heard a mixture of slogans from the Cold War, which was confusingly expressed by the prosecutor,” continued Yashin.
“With this hysterical verdict, the government wants to intimidate us all, but in fact, it only shows its weakness. The strong leaders are calm and sure of themselves, and only the weak try to close everyone, burn any dissent. So today I it remains only to repeat what was said on the day of my arrest: I am not afraid, and I should not be, “read the post.
In closing remarks to the court on Monday, before the verdict, Yashin made a statement addressing the judge, President Vladimir Putin and the Russian public. “As if they would sew my mouth shut and I would be forbidden to speak forever. Everyone understands that this is the point,” he said.
“I am isolated from society because they want me to be silent. I promise, as long as I am alive, I never will. My mission is to tell the truth. I will not give up the truth even behind bars. After all, quoting the classic: “Lie is the religion of slaves.”
Yashin, also a close ally of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, rose to prominence during the protests he helped organize between 2011 and 2012 against Putin’s re-election to a third term.
Yashin remained a fierce critic of Putin for years to come, even serving as a municipal deputy in a small Moscow municipality before being barred from running for public office again.
In June, he was sentenced to 15 days behind bars for disobeying police, charges he described at the time as part of a pressure campaign by authorities to force him to leave Russia .
Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent in 2020, an attack many Western officials and Navalny himself openly accused the Kremlin. Russia has denied any involvement.
After a five-month stay in Germany, recovering from Novichok poisoning, Navalny last year returned to Moscow, where he was immediately arrested for violating the terms of probation imposed in a 2014 case. Earlier this last year, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in prison on fraud charges that he said were politically motivated.
Navalny criticized Yashin’s jailing on Friday. “Another shameless and lawless Putin verdict will not silence Ilya and should not intimidate the honest people of Russia,” he said in a statement posted on his social accounts.
“This is another reason why we must fight, and I have no doubt that we will win in the end.”
Navalny said in the statement that Yashin was his “first friend” who entered politics and had known him since he was 18 years old. “Knowing Yashin for so long, I don’t even try to write something like: ‘Wait, Ilya.’ And so I know that he did everything well and endured everything,” he said.
Navalny concluded by saying that he is proud of Yashin and that he and Russia will be free.
Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, who is on Russia’s wanted list and lives in exile in London, told CNN Yashin was “an extremely brave person” who “chose to stay in Russia and speak out against the war”.
He added that he believed Yashin was a symbol of Russian resistance against the war.