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Russian Doctors Urge Release of Artist Imprisoned for Protesting Ukraine War

More than 100 Russian doctors have published an open letter demanding the immediate release of an artist and musician who was sentenced to seven years in prison for swapping supermarket price tags with antiwar messages. The letter addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin warns that imprisonment could lead to a significant deterioration in the artist’s health.

Sasha Skochilenko, the 33-year-old artist, was diagnosed with severe chronic diseases requiring proper medical supervision and a special diet. The doctors expressed indignation at the apparent injustice of the verdict, as well as their concerns about Skochilenko’s health.

Skochilenko, arrested in St. Petersburg in April 2022, faced charges of spreading false information about the military with her messages opposing the war in Ukraine. She was sentenced by a Russian court on Thursday.

One of the replaced price tags in the supermarket read, “The Russian army bombed an arts school in Mariupol. Some 400 people were hiding in it from the shelling,” while another stated, “Russian conscripts are being sent to Ukraine. Lives of our children are the price of this war.” A customer who found the slogans reported them to authorities. Skochilenko did not deny but rejected the accusation of spreading knowingly false information.

Skochilenko’s arrest came after a law was adopted, effectively criminalizing any public expression about the war that deviates from the official Kremlin line. The legislation has led to a widespread crackdown on opposition politicians, human rights activists, and ordinary citizens critical of the Kremlin, with many receiving lengthy prison terms.

Skochilenko had been in custody for nearly 19 months before her trial, so her seven-year sentence will be reduced by more than two years, as every day served in pre-trial detention counts as 1.5 days of time served in a regular penal colony. She has struggled while in custody due to health problems, including a congenital heart defect, bipolar disorder, and celiac disease, according to her lawyers and partner.

Russia’s most prominent human rights group, Memorial, has declared Skochilenko a political prisoner. According to OVD-Info, a rights group that monitors political arrests, a total of 19,834 Russians were arrested between Feb. 24, 2022, and late October of this year for speaking out or demonstrating against the war.

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