TALLINN, Estonia: A student activist was sentenced to 8 and a half years in prison by a court in Moscow for social media posts criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine. This is the latest move in a broad crackdown on dissent unleashed by the Kremlin.
A week after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine, Russian lawmakers unanimously approved a new law making it a crime to spread false information about the Russian army. This law resulted in the conviction of 23-year-old Dmitry Ivanov.
Individuals who do not adhere to the Kremlin’s preferred terminology for the conflict—”a special military operation”—have been prosecuted under this law.
Notable opposition politicians like Ilya Yashin (currently serving an 8 1/2 year sentence) and Vladimir Kara-Murza (currently detained pending trial) have also been accused of spreading misinformation about the military and have been imprisoned as a result.
Ivanov was arrested after he made several posts on his Telegram channel that described Russia’s campaign in Ukraine as a “war” and accused Russian forces of committing war crimes in the Bucha and Irpin suburbs of Kyiv and attacking the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The vast majority were recycled from elsewhere.
Ivanov was a student at Lomonosov Moscow State University, commonly referred to as MSU, when he was arrested in April 2022. He was the administrator of the widely-read Protest MSU Telegram channel, which was established in 2018 to report on student demonstrations against the construction of a World Cup fan zone next to the university’s main building.
Ivanov was arrested for organizing an illegal rally and initially served 10 days in prison. Authorities threw him in jail for another 25 days on the same charge before arresting him for his social media activity.
The student missed his last two exams and didn’t turn in his dissertation because he was in jail. He was kicked out of college.
Surprisingly, the court allowed the defense to subpoena Russian officials to testify during Ivanov’s trial. These included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov, and Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya.
Ivanov’s legal team argued that the officials should be deposed because the authorities had relied on their statements to establish that the content of Ivanov’s social media posts was false.
Despite the subpoenas, none of the three appeared in court as required.
Last week, in his closing statement before the court, Ivanov argued that the charges against him were “looking absurd” and that the crime for which he was being tried “shouldn’t exist at all.”
The investigation’s efforts to accuse me of spreading “fakes” have resulted in the creation of a single, massive hoax (itself). Everything in the indictment is false, from the first to the last word,” Ivanov said. Meantime, “I, in the meantime, stand by every word I wrote a year ago.”