Russian artist Alexandra Skochilenko addresses the court in Saint Petersburg at her trial over anti-war messages

The text reads: ‘Sasha Skochilenko was sentenced to 7 years in jail.’ Screenshot from the YouTube video from the Dozhd TV channel. Fair use.

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine had just started in February 2022, Alexandra Skochilenko, an artist from Saint Petersburg, Russia, on March 31, 2022, changed several price tags in a grocery store, Perekrestok, to notes with anti-war statements. She was kept in custody for over a year, and has now been sentenced to seven years in prison by a Russian court for “knowingly spreading false information about the Russian army.” Global Voices translated and edited for clarity her speech before the court hearings on November 16, 2023.  The original speech was published by Novaya Gazeta 

Your Honor, dear court,

My criminal case is so unusual and absurd that it was opened exactly on April 1. Sometimes, I feel like I'll enter the courtroom, and suddenly, confetti will rain down, and everyone will stand and shout, “It's a prank!” The staff at pre-trial detention center No. 5 are amazed, questioning if this is really what people are jailed for now. Even supporters of the SVO [“special military operation,” as the war on Ukraine is officially called in Russia] don't think I deserve prison for my actions.

My case led my investigator to quit before it closed. In a private talk with my lawyer, he confessed he didn't join the investigative committee for cases like mine, Sasha Skochilenko's.

Audio recording of Skochilenko's speech (in Russian), on the YouTube channel Nastoyaschee Vremya

He left my case, which could have boosted his career, and, instead, he left for a job at a store. I deeply respect his decision; we both acted according to our consciences.

Thanks to my investigators and prosecutors, the information I shared reached thousands worldwide. If not for my arrest, only a few individuals, like a grandmother, a cashier, and a security guard at Perekrestok, would have known it.

According to my case files, the so-called price tags hardly affected two of these three individuals.

If these five papers are so dangerous, why start this trial, repeating these statements, alleged by the prosecutor to threaten public safety? Did they cause an earth-shattering event, a revolution, or peace at the front? No, none of this happened. What, then, is the issue?

The state prosecutor repeatedly claimed my act was a grave danger to society and the state.

Does our prosecutor have such little faith in our nation that he believes five pieces of paper can destroy our society and state?

When someone starts a military rebellion, causing huge damage, their case is opened and closed in a day [She refers to the military coup by Evgenii Prigozhin in June 2023]. My actions hurt no one, yet I've been jailed for over a year among murderers and other serious criminals. Is the supposed harm I caused comparable to these crimes?

Every verdict sends a message. You might agree that I showed bravery and honesty, acting according to my moral compass. In investigator lingo, jailing someone is “taking a prisoner.” I didn't give in or break under threat or suffering.

What message does my conviction send to our people? Does it say to give up, be dishonest, admit to false guilt, or ignore empathy for our soldiers? Does it say our society can crumble due to five pieces of paper? Is this the message in times of crisis and stress?

My trial, widely followed in Russia and globally, will make history, regardless of the verdict. You're not judging a terrorist, extremist, or even a political activist. You're judging a pacifist.

I am a pacifist, valuing life above all, believing in peaceful conflict resolution. I can't harm a spider, let alone a person.

Peace is brought by pacifists, not warriors. Jailing pacifists only delays peace.

Life is sacred. It's resilient, astounding, and the essence of our existence. From small cells to great whales, life thrives in every corner of Earth, its most complex form being humans — conscious, mortal beings. Yet, human life is fleeting, a brief moment we all wish to extend.

Ask someone who's survived cancer about life's value. Our loved ones lost to COVID-19 remind us of life's fragility. Now, young lives are lost again, bringing more death, grief, and pain.

Label my beliefs as you wish, but I'll stand by them.

The state prosecutor has his beliefs, different from mine. Yet, I wouldn't jail him for his views.

I apologize if my actions offended anyone. My jail time, among diverse people, showed me everyone has their truth, including views on the SVO. The tragedy is our failure to accept differing truths, dividing society, breaking families, and distancing us from peace. Every person here ultimately seeks peace.

Why fight when we're all each other has in a troubled world? No wealth can rescue a loved one from death.

We're all we have. My loved ones, who don't want me jailed, await me — my elderly mother, sister, and cancer-stricken girlfriend. The state prosecutor might not truly want my imprisonment either. He likely joined his office to tackle real criminals, not someone like me, but the system demands otherwise.

He cares for his career and his family's future. But what will he say about jailing a sick woman for five papers? He reassures himself he's just doing his job, but what about when things change?

History shows shifts in political tides. Strangely, I empathize with you.

Despite my incarceration, I'm freer, able to express myself and make choices. I don't fear poverty or lack of a career. I'm not scared to be different.

Maybe that's why the state fears me and others like me, caging us as dangerous persons.

But we're not each other's enemies. Anger is easy; love and understanding are harder. We must learn to love and resolve conflicts through words, escaping our moral crisis.

Your Honor, your verdict can exemplify conflict resolution through compassion and dialogue, a step towards societal healing.

I realize this trial might seem routine to you, but remember, you hold immense power over human destinies. My fate, health, life, and my loved ones’ happiness are in your hands. I trust you'll use this power wisely.

The judge then gave Alexandra Skochilenko a prison sentence of seven years. As Reuters reported, in court, her supporters repeatedly shouted, “Disgrace, Disgrace!” and Skochilenko, smiling, made a heart shape with her hands as she stood in the courtroom cage. She was later seen wiping tears from her face.

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