First prison sentence for opposing Ukraine war on religious grounds

Country: Russia

Date of incident: April 5, 2023

Mikhail Simonov, a 63-year-old Russian Orthodox Christian, has become the first person to be imprisoned for expressing opposition to Russia's war in Ukraine on religious grounds. Simonov has been accused of disseminating false information about the Russian armed forces "based on political hatred" due to two social media posts in which he criticized Russian attacks on Kiev and Mariupol. One of the posts read "We, Russia, have become godless. Forgive us, Lord!"

Mikhail Simonov was charged under Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code, which President Vladimir signed into law in March 2022. On March 30 the Timiryazevsky District Court of Moscow sentenced him to seven years in prison, to be followed by a four-year ban on certain internet-related activities. Currently, Simonov remains in custody awaiting a possible appeal. The sentence was in line with the state prosecutor's demand, as he also requested seven years in prison.

Although Simonov was under arrest since 9 November 2022, "Сетевые свободы" (Net Freedoms Project) reports that it only took 12 days to investigate the case. The man was found guilty of spreading "fakes" about the Russian army due to his comments on the VKontakte social network about the bombing of Kiev and Mariupol. "By doing so, he misled readers about the legality of the actions of the Russian armed forces during a special military operation, and also undermined their authority and discredited them, because according to the Russian Defense Ministry, information about the alleged murder of civilians by Russian servicemen in Kiev and Mariupol does not correspond to reality," the investigator pointed out.

In fact, the comments made by Mikhail Simonov, translated by Forum 18, were "Killing children and women, [while] on Channel One [television] we sing songs. We, Russia, have become godless [bezbozhniki]. Forgive us, Lord!"; and "Russian pilots are bombing children." During the second hearing in January, Simonov explained that his mother had baptized him as a child and that that has stayed with him for the rest of his life. "I am a person who practices Christian treatment of all living beings," he said. He later mentioned that it was his firm belief in peace and Christian values that impulses him to make the comments. Now he has become first person to be sentenced for opposing Ukraine war on religious grounds.

Meanwhile, as previously reported in October 2022, two other Orthodox Christians are on trial for their religious-based opposition to Russia's war against Ukraine.

Additionally, Russians who object to the war, including those who express their opposition in religious terms, continue to face prosecution under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code, and if they do so repeatedly, criminal proceedings will be brought against them under the aforementioned Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code.


Sources: Forum 18MediazonaNet Freedoms Projects

Photo: Antonina Favorskaya/SOTAvision