Russia court convicts father of 13-year-old who drew anti-war picture

Alexei Moskalyov Credit: AP

A single father has been jailed by a Russian court over social media posts criticising the invasion of Ukraine after his daughter drew an anti-war picture at school, his lawyer and activists have said.

Alexei Moskalyov has been sentenced to two years in prison after he was accused of repeatedly discrediting the Russian army - which is a criminal offence in accordance to a law Russian authorities adopted shortly after sending troops into Ukraine.

But the 54-year-old's whereabouts is unknown after he fled house arrest overnight from his apartment in Yefremov, about 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) south of Moscow.

Court officials said he had been wearing a bracelet that tracked his movements but apparently had taken it off.

The family said they had faced pressure from police since last April when his daughter, Maria, refused to participate in a patriotic class at her school and made several drawings showing rockets being fired at a family standing under a Ukrainian flag and another that said “Glory to Ukraine!”

Alexei Moskalyov sits in a courtroom in Yefremov, Tula region, south of Moscow. Credit: AP

The case has drawn international attention after school officials reportedly then summoned the police, who questioned the girl and threatened her father.

Mr Moskalyov's teenage daughter, who has been taken from him by the authorities, wrote him a supportive letter for his trial from the orphanage where she is living.

According to his lawyer, part of the letter read: “Daddy, you’re my hero.”

Mr Moskalyov was indicted for a series of social media posts about Russian atrocities in Ukraine and referencing the “terrorist” regime in Moscow, that he insists he didn't make.

In April 2022, Moskalyov was fined for critical comments on social media.

His apartment was raided in December and a criminal case was opened against him this month. He was placed under house arrest and his daughter was placed into the orphanage.

The case has provoked an outcry among Russian human rights activists and sparked an online campaign to reunite father and daughter.

At the trial, which concluded in one day on Monday, three teachers and the director of Maria's school testified that they found Mr Moskalyov's “discrediting” social media posts at random and that Maria's drawing had nothing to do with the case - contradicting the accounts of his lawyer and other supporters.

Men in military uniforms and medals showed up at the courthouse Monday, apparently in support of the authorities.

Mr Moskalyov rejected the accusations and insisted he had nothing to do with the social media posts in question.

In a short closing statement, the father said he was “against” what the Kremlin insists on calling a “special military operation.”

“How can one feel about death, about people who are dying? Adults are dying, children... Only negatively - how else can one feel about a war?” he was quoted as saying by Russia's independent news site Mediazona.

Mr Moskalyov's lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko said he learned of his client's disappearance at the hearing.

He had been scheduled to appear in court again next week on a petition to restrict his parental rights.

Mr Biliyenko told The Associated Press the authorities' petition to restrict Mr Moskalyov's parental rights was based almost solely on his political views and his prosecution for discrediting the army, which they said posed a threat to his daughter.

The officials have also accused Mr Moskalyov of being a negligent parent because Maria stopped attending school after her drawing was reported to the police and she was questioned.

A lawyer shows drawings that Alexei Moskalyov's daughter drew for her father after being put into an orphanage.

According to Mr Biliyenko and supporters of the family, Maria was scared to go back to school and so studied at home.

The lawyer described the prosecution of Mr Moskalyov as “bullying of the family.”

Mr Biliyenko added that he had visited Maria at the orphanage on Tuesday and told reporters that while he wasn't able to see her, local administrators allowed him to photograph the letter she had written to her father.

The lawyer also was given two drawings by the girl, depicting a dog and rabbits.

Russian human rights activists say the Kremlin has ramped up pressure on those who disagree with the war.

In Moscow last week, police raided two bars suspected of raising funds for Ukraine's military.

According to media reports, police played patriotic songs and forced the guests to sing along during the raid. At least 40 people were briefly detained.

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