“Do you still need this war?” Moscow city councillor jailed for 7 years over criticism of war against Ukraine
Сергей Голубев
“Do you still need this war?” Moscow city councillor jailed for 7 years over criticism of war against Ukraine
8 July 2022, 19:56

Alexei Gorinov before the verdict announcement, June 8, 2022. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

Alexei Gorinov, a 60-year-old Moscow city councillor, became the first Russian to be sentenced to seven years in prison for "discrediting" Russian military's attack against Ukraine. Gorinov committed the offense of "knowingly spreading false information" about the military when he opposed conducting a children's drawing contest while children were dying in Ukraine. Moscow Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva sentenced Gorinov to seven years in prison for this statement.

It's been an hour since Alexei Gorinov was supposed to be sentenced, but the hallway of Meshchansky District Court in Moscow is getting crowded. No one knows when the court session will begin; lawyer Katerina Tertukhina repeats that her client has not been transported to court yet. But the crowd — Gorinov's family, human rights activists, Moscow City Duma deputies, activists, and supporters — is enthusiastic after Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva promised she would deliver the verdict in a large courtroom, for the first time since the trial had commenced.

Half an hour later bailiffs let people enter the courtroom. Gorinov greets journalists and supporters with a makeshift anti-war sign that reads "Do you still need this war?"; these signs have become a tradition during his short trial. Before the closing arguments, Gorinov was forced back to the escort room so that the bailiffs could confiscate his sign. Now one of the bailiffs rushes to the courtroom enclosure, nicknamed "aquarium" for its tempered glass walls, and tries to cover the sign with his body and raised hands, but Gorinov starts walking from side to side, and the bailiff gets bored quickly and backs away. “Apparently, the verdict will be announced to a handcuffed defendant. It is an outrage,” Gorinov complains.

Gorinov's family members. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

Well over 70 people turned up for the verdict announcement. It takes almost ten minutes to let everyone into the room. The human rights activist Marina Litvinovich and Moscow City Duma deputy Mikhail Timonov take turns telling the crowds to "squeeze together tightly" so that there would be enough room for everyone. It's the first time that so many people were allowed inside, yet Gorinov is not happy: "It's just not enough".

When everyone is seated, the head of the bailiffs, acting like a school teacher in front of students, informs them that filming, talking, and shouting are prohibited in the courtroom; failure to comply would result in an administrative offence report.

"Any questions?" he asks. "What's the fine?" a woman's question is met with a round of laughter.

Others tell her that the fine is 500 roubles. Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva enters the courtroom and starts pronouncing the verdict.

Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

Secret witnesses

The most important part of the trial — the interrogation of witnesses for the prosecution — was closed to the public and the media. However, the prosecutor's arguments as well as the verdict did reference those statements. One of the witnesses had a last name Shuranova — this matches the last name of deputy head of the local administration. She lamented that she was at that very meeting and was very upset that the children were being deprived of the event.

The second witness was a young man, last name Lesota. "In mid-March, the exact time he could not remember", Lesota watched a video recording of the meeting, and it "offended him, hurt him, and he felt like he was treated unfairly since both his grandfathers fought against fascism," Judge Mendeleyeva referenced his testimony in the verdict. "He considers the statements by Kotyonochkina and Gorinov unacceptable, aimed at discrediting the use of the Russian Armed Forces to protect the interests of the state. Gorinov's statement also undermined domestic tranquillity," she recounted.

The defence witnesses testified in open court. Two residents of Krasnoselsky district praised Gorinov's work as a councillor. A fellow councillor, lawyer Mikhail Biryukov, also defended his colleague. Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva refused to consider their testimonies as "subjective."

Questions for the defendant touched upon geopolitical issues. "Do you know the aims and objectives of this special operation?" Judge Mendeleeva asked. "What has been officially announced, yes. But I can't even pronounce these words," Gorinov quipped, probably referring to "denazification" and "demilitarisation" of Ukraine.

Katerina Tertukhina. Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

The sentencing

Judge Mendeleeva's reasoned that "reformation of the defendant is impossible" without imprisonment in a general regime penal colony. These words made Gorinov's wife and lawyer Tertukhina cry. At this point Judge Medneleeva announced a five-minute break, and all the listeners stood up and applauded Gorinov.

"Citizens, come out of the courtroom! Come out of the courtroom over disorderly conduct!" the bailiffs instantly responded. Only Gorinov's relatives and journalists remained in the courtroom; others were pushed not just out of the room, but out of the court.

Gorinov started explaining that the decision had been written in advance. "She wasn't even listening yesterday, she was messaging online, I was observing carefully. She was on her phone, chatting with someone. It's impossible [to write the verdict] in one night," he insisted. The wife asked Gorinov not to respond to every one of her letters: she would write to him often and he need not waste his time.

Then Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva returned and delivered the final part of the verdict: 7 years imprisonment in a general regime penal colony with a 4 years ban on public service.

"Gorinov, do you understand the sentence?" she asked. "Yes, but I'm surprised it's so soft," he replied.

Editor: Agata Shcheglova

Translation: Sergey Golubev

Correction, July 25, 17:55. This article originally misquoted Gorinov as saying that the sentence is "so harsh." Later he brought our attention to the mistake with the letter from a detention facility, emphasasing that he said "so soft."

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