A Moscow court on Monday sentenced a popular cookbook author and blogger to nine years in prison after convicting her in absentia of spreading false information about the country’s military. The trial was part of the Kremlin’s sweeping, months-long crackdown on dissent.
The charges against Veronika Belotserkovskaya, who lives abroad, were brought over her Instagram posts that the authorities alleged contained “deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to destroy cities and the civilian population of Ukraine, including children.”
Belotserkovskaya, whose Instagram profile says she was born in Odessa, a city in southern Ukraine, responded to the news of the sentencing by writing that she is, “on one hand, perplexed, and on the other hand, of course, proud.”
Russia’s Investigative Committee announced launching a case against Belotserkovskaya on March 16, 2022, several weeks after Moscow’s troops rolled into Ukraine. It was the first publicly-known case under a new law adopted earlier that month that penalized information seen as disparaging to the Russian military.
The Russian authorities issued an arrest order for the blogger in absentia, put her on a wanted list and seized 153 million rubles (roughly $2.2 million) worth of her assets.
She was also declared a “foreign agent,” a designation that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations aimed at discrediting the recipient.
Belotserkovskaya has been handed the longest prison sentence under the new law and is the second prominent public figure to be sentenced in absentia.
Last week, a Moscow court sentenced Alexander Nevzorov, a television journalist and former lawmaker, in absentia to eight years in prison on the same charges.
Nevzorov was accused of posting “false information” on social media about the Russian shelling of a maternity hospital in the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol. Moscow has fiercely denied its involvement.
The journalist moved abroad after the start of the Ukrainian conflict.
In December, prominent opposition politician Ilya Yashin was sentenced to 8½ years in prison under the same law. Earlier last year, Alexei Gorinov, a member of a Moscow municipal council Yashin used to chair, was sentenced to seven years in prison for his critical remarks about the hostilities in Ukraine.
Another leading opposition figure, Vladimir Kara-Murza, is currently in custody facing the same charges.