Russian Student Detained for Sign That Read: *** *****

'Even seemingly benign actions have led to arrests,' reports the AP
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2022 6:48 AM CDT
Even Asterisks Are Seen as Anti-War in Russia
A car of Russian Rosguardia (National Guard) with stuck letter Z, which has become a symbol of the Russian military, patrols the streets of central St. Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday.   (AP Photo)

A Russian shopper looking for the price of a grocery item might instead learn about the Russian bombing of a Ukrainian school. As NPR reports, an artist in St. Petersburg is among several people facing penalty in Russia for swapping price tags with anti-war messages. A district court ruled this week that Aleksandra "Sasha" Skochilenko will be jailed at least until June 1 after a shopper reportedly told police she had swapped a price tag with a message noting 400 people had been sheltering in the basement of a Mariupol art school during Russian bombing on March 20. She faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of spreading "knowingly false information" about Russia's armed forces.

New laws passed in March criminalize information seen as "discrediting" Russian troops or otherwise contradicting the government's account of its "special military operation." Authorities have used the law to detain and arrest even those who try to skirt it—for example, a student displaying a sign with eight asterisks in possible reference to the banned phrase meaning "no to war"; the student was fined $618, per the AP. The anti-war messages turning up on grocery items—backed by the newly-formed Feminist Anti-War Resistance—are a more blatant form of protest. Photos from grocery stores in cities including Kazan and St. Petersburg show "price tags for glue sticks, coffee and candy bars switched for reports about Ukraine, such as the number of humanitarian convoys unable to reach cities under fire," NPR reports.

Several artists have been fined or detained for such labels. Skochilenko is the second person to be criminally charged, according to Amnesty International, which is demanding the release of all activists detained for peaceful anti-war dissent. Human rights groups say more than 500 people are facing misdemeanor charges for violating the law, while at least 23 are facing criminal prosecution and possible prison sentences, including an ex-cop who condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine during a phone call with friends. The AP notes "even seemingly benign actions have led to arrests" and cites the case of a man who was detained in Moscow for standing beside a WWII monument to Kyiv while holding the book War and Peace. (More Russia stories.)

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