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Russia Finds a War Critic Guilty of ‘Spreading False Information’

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MOSCOW — A Russian court on Friday sentenced an opposition politician, Ilya Yashin, to eight and a half years in prison after finding him guilty on charges of “spreading false information” about atrocities committed in the Ukrainian city of Bucha by Russian troops in February and March.

Judge Oksana Goryunova also ordered that Mr. Yashin be barred from using the internet for four years. Prosecutors had requested a sentence of nine years.

Mr. Yashin, who pleaded not guilty, is among the highest-profile opposition politicians remaining in Russia. Before his arrest in July, he spoke about the war on his YouTube channel, often voicing criticism of President Vladimir V. Putin and his “special military operation.” While many Putin critics have fled Russia, especially immediately after its invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Yashin vowed to remain, even if it meant serving prison time.

Prosecutor Sergei Belov told the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow that Mr. Yashin had spoken “indiscriminately” about the coverage of the war by the Russian news media, and instead cited news produced by outlets from “unfriendly states: the United States and its satellites” that “supply instructors and weapons to Ukraine.”

The verdict against Mr. Yashin, who served in the Krasnoselsky district of Moscow, is the latest example of the Kremlin’s far-reaching attempts to silence any criticism, especially of its invasion of Ukraine.

In July, Alexei Gorinov, a deputy in the Krasnoselsky council, received a prison sentence of seven years on the same charge of knowingly spreading “false information” about the Russian army. Mr. Gorinov was sentenced for comments he made in March during a meeting of the local council when he suggested that a planned children’s drawing contest be postponed while children in Ukraine were dying.

In court on Friday, Mr. Yashin stood handcuffed in a glass cage, waving to supporters and making a peace sign, according to witnesses.

After the announcement, Mr. Yashin posted a defiant statement on the Telegram messaging app.

“So, the court sentenced me to 8 years and 6 months in prison,” he wrote. “Well, the authors of the verdict are optimistic about Putin’s prospects. In my opinion, way too optimistic.”

Mr. Yashin compared the process to a Soviet show trial and said the prosecutor was trying to imitate his predecessors from the Stalinist period, when millions of people were sent to labor camps or shot as enemies of the state.

“With this hysterical verdict, the government wants to intimidate us all, but in fact it only shows its weakness,” he wrote. “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 are not afraid.”

The verdict came on the heels of a decision Wednesday to declare Vesna, an antiwar movement, “extremist” in closed-door proceedings. Vesna was among the organizations that called for protests after the war began in February, and again in September after Mr. Putin announced the drafting of hundreds of thousands of men into the military.

At least 19,335 people have been detained at antiwar protests since Feb. 24, according to OVD-Info, a Russian human rights watchdog that monitors police activity.

Despite the heightened climate of repression, Mr. Yashin said in his statement that he believed he would not have to serve his whole sentence.

“Changes are not far off, and soon we will have a lot of work to restore justice and humanism in our country,” he wrote.

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