“shameful criminalization of freedom of expression in Russia must stop”.
Iris de Graaf
“Let’s face it. Since February 24, I knew very well that I would be arrested. We all knew it. I was asked why I didn’t leave Russia. Okay, I’ll explain that: I don’t want it easy for them I don’t want to run and hide from those I despise.”
38-year-old opposition politician Ilya Yasjin wrote this under an Instagram post tonight after he was arrested earlier today. He is one of the last opposition members to remain in Russia.
‘Sharing fake information’
Yashin had been in prison since early June, serving a sentence for alleged disobedience to police. He was supposed to be released today, but was immediately re-arrested instead. This time he is charged with “sharing fake information about the Russian armed forces”. A Moscow court today ordered that Yashin be detained until September 12, until the official sentencing.
The politician could face up to 15 years in prison under new Russian legislation, which since March has banned “discrediting” the Russian armed forces publicly or citing information from unofficial sources. According to Reuters, Yashin yelled “Russia will be free!” after the judge agreed to prosecutors’ request to keep him in jail until September.
In addition to his work in regional politics, Yasjin also has a popular YouTube channel with more than 1.2 million subscribers. There he shares a lot of videos, since February mostly with criticism of the Russian performance in Ukraine. He also runs a popular Telegram channel. The judiciary is now prosecuting him based on a statement in one of his videos.
Amnesty International calls on Russia to release Yashin, writing that the “shameful criminalization of freedom of expression in Russia must stop”. According to the human rights group, since February, Russian authorities have “became even more brutal in their efforts to silence the political opposition, activists, and anyone who disagrees with the government”.
Opposition leader Navalny, who can still communicate through his lawyers, also spoke out on the case: “I demand the immediate release of Ilya Yasjin,” his team tweeted on his behalf. Yashin has spoken nothing but the truth about what is going on in Ukraine, according to Navalny.
Just last week, Moscow district councilor Alexei Gorinov was sentenced to seven years in prison. At a meeting in March, he criticized Russia’s actions in Ukraine. It was one of the first cases where the new law on “discrediting the Russian army” was applied and such a long prison sentence was imposed.
Now Jasjin follows, a few days later. It appears that the authorities are busy dealing with the last remnants of opposition that remain. This may have to do with the approaching municipal elections on September 11, which are already being campaigned locally across the country.
In recent months, more than 200 criminal cases have been opened in Russia related to public protest or the ‘spreading of fake news’. More than 16,000 Russians have been detained since February; journalists, lawyers, mayors, artists, clergy and teachers. Some were given hefty fines, others were given house arrest or prison terms.
In his Instagram post, Jasjin refers to the high price that Russians have to pay today to “break the darkness”. “Boris Nemtsov paid with his life, hundreds of people now pay with their personal freedom. “But,” writes Yashin, “I promised that I would speak the truth out loud as long as I can. And that if I were to be arrested, I would take the blow with dignity. I keep my word”.
“I’m not afraid,” he concludes. “And you shouldn’t be afraid either.”