A Moscow court on Friday sentenced Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin to eight years and six months imprisonment, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti, in a blow to what’s left of the country’s opposition.
It is unclear if Yashin’s prison sentence for spreading “false information” about the Russian army includes the time he has already spent in jail during court hearings.
Russian investigators say his statements about the circumstances of the killings in Bucha are a criminal offense under recently introduced legislation, which considers discrediting the Russian armed forces to be 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 also have no reason to be sad, because we have won this trial, friends. The process started as a denunciation of me 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 continued.
“With this hysterical verdict, the government wants to intimidate us all, but in fact, 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: I am not afraid, and you should not be,” the post read.
In closing remarks to the court on Monday, ahead of the verdict, Yashin made a statement addressing the judge, President Vladimir Putin and the Russian public. “As if they will 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’m alive I’ll never will be. 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.’”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that it’s “inappropriate” to question a court’s decision when asked to comment on Yashin’s sentencing Friday.
“I consider it absolutely unacceptable to interfere in the affairs of the courts, I consider it inappropriate to cast doubt on the decision of the court. And there are defined laws designated rights to protect citizens, and one can appeal to a higher authority. Mr. Yashin’s lawyers certainly know what they should do,” Putin said speaking to reporters after a summit in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.
When asked for comment on the court’s verdict on the Russian opposition figure, Putin first asked “Who is Yashin?” and he only gave a response after a reporter told him who Yashin was.
Sentenced for disobedience
Yashin, also a close ally of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, came to prominence during protests he helped organize between 2011 and 2012 against Putin’s re-election for a third term.
He remained a fierce Putin critic for years to come, also 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 being disobedient to police, charges he described at the time as part of a pressure campaign by the authorities to force him to leave Russia.
Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent in 2020, an attack several Western officials and Navalny himself openly blamed on the Kremlin. Russia has denied any involvement.
After a five-month stay in Germany recovering from the Novichok poisoning, Navalny last year returned to Moscow, where he was immediately arrested for violating probation terms imposed from a 2014 case. Earlier this year, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in prison on fraud charges he said were politically motivated.
Navalny criticized Yashin’s imprisonment 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 media 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 Yashin was his “first friend” he made in politics and knew him since the age of 18. “Knowing Yashin for so long, I won’t even try to write something like: “Hold on, Ilya.” And so I know that he did everything right and will endure 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 remain in Russia and to speak against the war.”
He added he believed Yashin was a symbol of Russian resistance against the war.
CNN’s Tara John and Josh Pennington contributed to this report.