He criticized the offensive in Ukraine in a statement to the press on the street, and now he is exposed to 10 years in jail. An ordinary Russian citizen appeared before a Moscow court on Wednesday to say that he regrets “nothing” about what he said.
Hundreds of opponents, activists and ordinary Russian citizens have been imprisoned for expressing their disagreement since the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine in February 2022. However, this is the first known case in which justice has taken action against someone for answering questions from the press.
Yuri Kokhovets, 37 years old, responded spontaneously in July 2022 to a request for an interview from the media Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), who was walking that day asking passers-by on the streets of Moscow.
Questioned like this at the exit of a metro stop, this man said that President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government were responsible for the conflictand criticized the Kremlin’s arguments to justify the military offensive.
“Our government says it wants to fight the (Ukrainian) nationalists, but it bombs shopping centers,” he said in that video posted on the social networks of RFE/RLa medium financed by the United States since the days of the Cold War.
He also accused the Russian military of having “killed without reason” civilians in Bucha, a town near kyiv and the scene of a massacre attributed to Moscow forces early in the conflict.
“All of this has to stop. Here is a man who can stop it, ”he added, referring to President Putin.
For months, no one disturbed Yuri Kokhovets. But in March he was detained by the police and after 48 hours of detention he was fined 500 rubles, the equivalent of five dollars at the current exchange rate, for “vandalism”, according to the organization OVD-Info, in charge of his defense.
The case did not stop there, and the justice system later reclassified the accusation as “spreading false information about the Russian armed forces”, a criminal type introduced at the beginning of the conflict, and which has already resulted in thousands of convictions.
Now, Yuri Kokhovets is exposed to a penalty of up to ten years in jail.
“People are afraid”
After a brief hearing this Wednesday, the process has been postponed, and will continue on September 18.
“I do not regret anything. Life is like a swing, there are ups and downs,” the defendant told reporters after the hearing, insisting that “Everyone has the right to express their opinion.”
Kokhovets also said that “fate” wanted him to answer questions from “journalists of the free press” that day.
“I told them everything I think. And I maintain my opinion, nothing has changed.
This pest control specialist says that when he talks about his case with his clients, they tell him that “It’s better to shut up.”
“People are afraid,” says Yuri Kokhovets. “Everything has a beginning and an end. At the moment there is no bright future in sight, but I remain hopeful ”, he concluded.
For years, the repression in Russia has struck out at voices critical of power, a phenomenon that accelerated with the start of the conflict in Ukraine and the relative international isolation of the country, due to Western sanctions.
Almost all of the major opponents fled the country or are in jail, as is the case with Alexei Navalnithe best known of them and recently sentenced to 19 years in prison.
Thousands of ordinary Russians were also condemned for their opposition to the conflict, either during protests or even for simple messages posted on social networks.
According to OVD-Info, which keeps track of individual cases, close to 20,000 people were arrested in Russia since February 2022.
(With information from AFP)
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