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3 Nov, 2023 10:52

Pussy Riot founder given eight-year prison sentence

Pyotr Verzilov was tried in absentia by a Russian court for spreading falsehoods about the armed forces
Pussy Riot founder given eight-year prison sentence

A Moscow district court has sentenced Pyotr Verzilov, a founding member of the anarchist punk group Pussy Riot, to a prison term of eight years and six months for publishing fake news about the military. He was tried in absentia, having fled the country in 2020.

The sentence passed on Friday was six months shorter than the prosecution had sought for the defendant. Verzilov’s lawyer told journalists that he will be appealing the ruling on behalf of his client, TASS news agency reported from the courthouse.

The criminal case against Verzilov, an activist and a controversial shock artist, was opened over his social media posts, which prosecutors said amounted to deliberate disinformation about the Russian military. Specifically, he accused troops of massacring civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha in 2022.

The allegations, which originate from Kiev and its Western backers, have been rejected by Moscow as false. The Kremlin has said the purported evidence of the crimes was fabricated, as part of an effort by the US and its allies to derail last year’s peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky used the Bucha incident to justify scrapping a draft truce with Moscow and declaring military victory as his country’s only option in the conflict.

Verzilov was also previously charged over his failure to disclose dual citizenship to the authorities. Russian nationals who obtain foreign citizenship or residence permits are required to inform the Interior Ministry. Verzilov reportedly became a naturalized citizen of Canada in 2005.

He gained notoriety in Russia in the late 2000s and early 2010s for the performances of his Voyna (War) art group. Its breakout moment was a 2008 filmed orgy, in which he and other members participated in a protest against Dmitry Medvedev’s candidacy for the Russian presidency. Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Verzilov’s wife at the time, was part of the group.

In 2014, Verzilov and his associates founded the online news site Mediazona. It has received numerous awards from Western and Russian opposition media organizations.

The Russian government blacklisted the outlet as a foreign agent in 2021, claiming it received some of its funding from foreign sources. Last year, the platform was banned in the country for allegedly spreading fake news.

In early October, Verzilov announced on social media that he had parted ways with Mediazona. He said his “present activities” made some people question the outlet’s “lack of bias and independence.” Days earlier he gave an extended interview, in which he discussed his decision to join the ranks of the Ukrainian Army. He has also posted photos of himself purportedly fighting on the battlefield against Russian forces.

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