St. Petersburg artist given seven-year sentence for anti-war protest using supermarket price tags

The St. Petersburg artist and musician Sasha Skochilenko has been sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of spreading “known untruths” about the Russian military by a court in Russia’s second city, Novaya Gazeta Europe’s correspondent reported from the hearing on Thursday.

In March 2022, Skochilenko left tags she printed herself on items at her local supermarket, each one displaying one of five messages critical of the war in Ukraine. She was arrested shortly afterwards and has spent the past year and a half in pre-trial detention.


Photo: Novaya Gazeta Europe

The prosecution had requested the court give Skochilenko an eight-year sentence, which it stressed was less than the maximum punishment it could have asked for, the prosecution having taken into account mitigating factors such as Skochilenko’s poor health and her history of charity work.

Skochilenko’s defence team requested the court acquit her on all charges, arguing that her guilt had not been proven during her ill-tempered trial, which saw academic witnesses attacking each other over their differing interpretation of the messages Skochilenko wrote on price tags, and ultimately saw a leading philologist at St. Petersburg State University being fired for providing expert testimony for the defence.

Skochilenko, 33, who suffers from celiac disease and whose health has deteriorated significantly in pre-trial detention over the past year and a half, has stressed that being imprisoned in her condition is no mere punishment, but amounts to forced starvation due to her extremely restrictive diet.

“How fragile must the prosecutor’s belief in our state and society be, if he thinks that our statehood and public safety can be brought down by five small pieces of paper?” Skochilenko said in her final address to the court, adding that “Despite being behind bars, I am freer than you.”

“Wars are waged by warriors, but peace is brought by pacifists. Imprisoning pacifists only delays the advent of long-awaited peace.”

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