Prisoner of Conscience: Alexandra Skochilenko
On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Alexandra, or Sasha, Skochilenko, a Russian artist and musician based in St. Petersburg, was watching the news in horror.
“I feel that I can no longer stay silent. I hear from people I became acquainted with through my book, from real people in Ukraine where there are bombs falling and there are casualties. This is the reality,” said Skochilenko three days later in a social media post.
Skochilenko is best known for her comic book documenting her struggles with depression. Critically acclaimed when originally published in 2014, the book led to a series of other projects raising awareness about living with anxiety and other mental health problems.
In April 2022 Skochilenko decided to protest peacefully against Putin's invasion of Ukraine by replacing price tags in a local supermarket with anti-war slogans that countered the misinformation spread by the Kremlin. One of the texts read: “The Russian army has bombed the art school in Mariupol. 400 people were sheltering there during the bombing.”
Skochilenko said that instead of arresting her in her home, the police coerced a childhood friend of hers to lure her to his apartment where officers were waiting to detain her. In addition, police searched her home and interrogated her until the early morning. The artist was accused of “the public dissemination of deliberately false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the exercise of their powers by state bodies of the Russian Federation”.
Currently Skochilenko is awaiting trial. If convicted, she faces up to ten years in prison, according to a new law which criminalizes the spread of false information about the war.
When Russia introduced the law in spring designed to silence opposition to the invasion, many international media outlets were forced to suspend their operations in the country in order to protect their journalists.
Skochilenko’s lawyer has said that it is impossible to predict how the court will decide this case. But so far, the signs are not good.
“I feel that I can no longer stay silent. I hear from people I became acquainted with through my book, from real people in Ukraine where there are bombs falling and there are casualties. This is the reality,”
In the first months of the war, thousands of Russians were jailed for peacefully protesting against Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
In July a Russian court sentenced a municipal council member to seven years in prison for criticizing the actions of Russian troops in Ukraine. This is considered the first verdict delivered under the so-called “fake news” law.
Sasha’s partner, Sofya Subbotina, is concerned because Skochilenko’s health has worsened and she has lost a lot of weight. The artist suffers from celiac disease which requires her to eat a special gluten-free diet. In June, in an interview in Meduza, a Russian publication, Subbotina said that the authorities have not provided the gluten-free food Skochilenko requires and have limited her access to food packages.
Since Skochilenko’s arrest, she has been placed in pre-trial detention, despite protests from her lawyer to either release her or put her in house arrest.
Both Russian and international organizations have called for her immediate release, launching campaigns and petitions while urging people to contact Russian authorities in her support.
“What is happening to me is a living, palpitating record of our era, and I have already started to draft a book about what is happening to me,” said Skochilenko in an April letter sent from detention. “For capturing me, my prosecutors will get a pathetic bonus—and I will get immortality, and quite a unique experience of prison and of my investigation, of which I will be able to tell the world about in all its colour and details.”
Disclaimer: As of December 12, 2022, research shows that Alexandra Skochilenko is still in detention, awaiting trial.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many.
Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website.