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Russian court fines war critic who asked for prison instead

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A court in Russia convicted a woman from a Siberian city over social media posts condemning the war in Ukraine and punished her Friday with a steep fine even though both she and the prosecution asked for a prison sentence.

Marina Novikova, a 65-year-old lawyer, was found guilty of “spreading false information” about the Russian army, which was made a criminal offense after President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine more than 14 months ago.

Novikova’s posts on the messaging app Telegram decried the invasion and criticized the Russian government.

The court in Seversk, Novikova’s hometown, imposed a fine of over 1 million rubles (over $12,400), the Russian human rights and legal aid group OVD-Info quoted her husband, Alexandr Gavrik, as saying.

Prosecutors had requested a three-year prison sentence. Novikova herself pleaded with the court to send her to prison rather than the alternative: a fine of at least 700,000 rubles ($8,700) that the law allowed. She said she didn’t have the money to pay a fine of that size.

“I am prepared to pay the price for the right to remain a human … because I understand that there will be no acquittal,” Novikova was quoted by Russian media as saying in court.

An average salary in Siberia’s Tomsk province, where Seversk is located, is 56,000 rubles, or just under $700, according to official government statistics.

OVD-Info, which monitors protests and tracks arrests, said the case against Novikova was among the first ones launched under the new law that prohibited spreading false information about the Russian military. But the number of such prosecutions has mushroomed as part of the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent since the start of invasion of Ukraine.

The sweeping campaign of repression has been unparalleled since the Soviet era. It has effectively criminalized independent reporting on the conflict and any criticism of the war, with the authorities targeting not only prominent opposition figures who eventually received draconian prison terms but but people not known for anti-government activity.

A court in Moscow convicted a former police officer Monday of publicly spreading false information about the country’s military for criticizing the war in Ukraine to his friends over the phone. Semiel Vedel was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Authorities argued his phone conversations qualified as “public” because his phone was wiretapped in connection to another criminal case, and there was a third person listening in.

Last month, a Russian court convicted a single father over social media posts critical of the war and sentenced him to two years in prison. His 13-year-old daughter, who drew an antiwar sketch at school, was sent to an orphanage.

A recent report by the Russian Supreme Court said that in 2022, courts ordered citizens to pay fines for discrediting the military 4,439 times, the equivalent of about $1.8 million, according to independent Russian news site Mediazona.

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