A district court in St. Petersburg, Russia, sentenced Olga B. Smirnova, a peace activist and an outspoken critic of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, to six years in a penal colony on Wednesday for spreading so-called false information about the country’s armed forces on social media.
Ms. Smirnova, a 55-year-old architect, was arrested in May 2022, after posting information on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, that described the death of Ukraine’s civilians and the shelling of its cities after Russia invaded. The prosecutors who won her conviction cited her “extremely negative attitude toward the political regime of the Russian Federation.”
The prosecution’s case was based on seven of her posts to a group she belonged to, called “Democratic Petersburg — Peaceful Resistance.” In one, on March 6, 2022, she wrote that “Russian aggressors” had committed war crimes “comparable in scale only to the atrocities of the German Nazis during World War II.”
In court, the prosecution labeled the information as “fake,” not least because it was not included in official accounts from Russia’s ministries of defense or foreign affairs, local news reports noted. The evidence against her also included books written in Ukrainian found when her apartment was searched, the prosecutors said.
The defense had argued that Russia’s Constitution guaranteed freedom of speech.
In remarks before her sentencing, Ms. Smirnova denied spreading any fake news, but said opposition to the Russian government was something of a family tradition. Ms. Smirnova will be credited with 16 months already served for her time in pretrial detention. In addition to the prison sentence, she was banned from administering any online sites for three years.
According to the organization OVD-Info, a Russian rights groups, the state had brought criminal charges against more than 600 defendants for antiwar activity and initiated more than 7,100 administrative cases in the period between the start of the war, on Feb. 24, 2022, and the end of June of this year.
Asked by the exiled news website Mediazona to write about her experiences in court and in prison, Ms. Smirnova, in a letter published on Wednesday, offered this advice: “Now it is better to turn to the dissidents of the Soviet period for advice, until their generation has left this mortal world. They will better explain how to practically realize their inalienable rights when they remained only on paper.”