“Oh yes, life!” Sasha Skochilenko’s courtroom speech on the value of life and reconciliation amidst war and conflict
“Oh yes, life!” Sasha Skochilenko’s courtroom speech on the value of life and reconciliation amidst war and conflict
16 November 2023, 13:40

Photo: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

33-year-old artist from St. Petersburg, Sasha (Alexandra) Skochilenko, has been in pre-trial detention since April 2022. She is being tried under the military “fake news” law for five stickers containing information about the consequences of the invasion of Ukraine, which she used to replace price tags in a Perekrestok grocery store. The prosecutor has requested an eight-year prison term for her. Throughout the trial, it often seemed that the Vasileostrovsky District Court and the security forces were tormenting Skochilenko: during a search in her cell, they confiscated medicine for heart disease, and she was denied the opportunity to leave a hearing to replace the batteries in her ECG machine. We publish Sasha Skochilenko’s final statement in court—she calls her case “ludicrous”, pities the state prosecutor, and finds kind words for the investigator who didn’t complete it and resigned from the Investigative Committee.

Your Honour! Respected Court!

My case is so bizarre and ludicrous that it was initiated on April 1st. My case is so bizarre and ludicrous that at times I expect to walk into the courtroom, only to be greeted with confetti and shouts of “Gotcha! Gotcha!”. My case is so bizarre and ludicrous that even employees at the detention centre #5 are astonished, exclaiming, “Do they really put people in prison for this now?”. Even some who support the Special Military Operation whom I met don’t believe I deserve to be put behind bars for what I’d done.

My case saw my investigator resign before my case concluded. He confided to my lawyer, “I didn’t come to work for the Investigative Committee to pursue cases like Sasha Skochilenko’s.” He abandoned a case that would have propelled him to a wonderful career, a case that had already earned him a promotion. He quit the Investigative Committee to work at a military surplus store. I immensely respect his decision and think that me and him are very much alike—we both acted on our conscience.

Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code inherently discriminatory, targeting specifically those outside state service. Consider this: the information I disseminated was deemed patently false by my investigators, unlike to me. Yet, they circulated it among their department, as well as the prosecutor’s office and the court, inadvertently offending military witnesses and igniting a significant public outcry.

Thanks to my investigators and prosecutors, the information I spread reached thousands in Russia and all over the world. Had I not been arrested, it would have been known only to one granny, a cashier, and a security guard at the Perekrestok store. And, according to the case files, two of these individuals were not impressed by this information. Please, tell me, do investigators distribute drugs among state employees when prosecuting under Article 228? They themselves would face charges under the same law. So why aren’t my investigators and prosecutors facing charges under Article 207.3, only me?

If these five pieces of paper are so alarming, why initiate these proceedings? To have us repeatedly declare these allegedly socety-threatening statements? Yet here we are, reciting the “price tags” over and over throughout the trial. And the result? Did the earth split open? Did a revolution start? Did soldiers start fraternizing across front lines? Nothing of the sort happened. So, what’s the actual problem?

The state prosecutor repeatedly declared my actions extremely dangerous to society and the state. How fragile must the prosecutor’s belief in our state and society be, if he thinks that our statehood and public safety can be brought down by five small pieces of paper?

When someone instigates a mutiny inflicting substantial damage to our country, their criminal case is swiftly opened and closed within a day. No one was hurt by my actions, yet I’ve been incarcerated for over a year and a half now, alongside murderers, thieves, statutory rapists, and pimps. Can the supposed harm I caused even compare to these crimes?

Each court sentence communicates to society. Regardless of your view on my actions, you’d likely agree that I demonstrated courage and character strength, was not hypocritical, and remained truthful to myself and honest with this court, acting in line with my moral compass. And you must acknowledge that I possess such principles, even if you personally share different ones. In investigator lingo, jailing someone is termed “taking a captive”. Well, I didn’t give up and remained unbroken in this “captivity”, despite facing harassment, illness, and hunger threats.

If a sentence sends a message to the nation, consider what you’re communicating to our citizens by convicting me. That they have to give up? That they have to be hypocrites? That they have to admit to something they are not guilty of? Are we suggesting that it’s wrong to empathize with our soldiers? Or to desire peaceful skies? That our society and our state can be destroyed by five small pieces of paper? Is it really something you want to signal to people in times of crisis, instability, depression, and stress?

My trial has garnered significant attention in Russia and worldwide. Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands, follow it, with books being written and documentaries filmed. Your verdict, whatever it may be, will be historical. You might be remembered for imprisoning, acquitting, or for a neutral decision like a fine, suspended sentence, or for deeming I’ve served my time. Everyone sees and knows you aren’t trying a terrorist. You are trying a pacifist.

I am a pacifist. Pacifists have always existed. It’s a certain creed of people who place the highest value on life. We believe every conflict can be resolved peacefully. I can’t bear to kill even a spider, frightened by the very thought of taking a life.

Wars are waged by warriors, but peace is brought by pacifists. Imprisoning pacifists only delays the advent of long-awaited peace.

Yes, I think that life is sacred. Oh yes, life! Strip away the world’s frippery like money, power, glory, and social status, and all that’s left is life. Oh yes, life! It’s persistent, tenacious, moving, incredible, powerful. It originated on Earth, and to date, we’ve found nothing like it even in the vastness of space. It can find its way through the pavement, shatter stone, grow from a tiny sprout into a massive baobab. It thrives on mountain summits, lurks in the Mariana Trench, endures in Arctic ice and scorching deserts. The ultimate form of life is the human being. Humans represent an extraordinarily intelligent life form. This is life aware of itself, its mortality. Yet, we often forget this, living as if immortal. In truth, human life is fleeting. It’s insignificantly short. All we can do is extend a brief moment of bliss. Every living being wants to live. Even on the necks of the hanged, there are nail scratch marks. This means that, in their final moments, they desperately wished to survive.

Ask someone who’s just had a cancerous tumour removed what life is and how precious it is. Today, scientists and medics around the world strive to prolong human life and find cures for deadly diseases. So, I fail to understand: why war? War shortens lives. War is death. In 2021, in the coronavirus pandemic, we lost our elderly loved ones—grandparents, mentors, teachers. We endured so much pain, anxiety, and mourning, and just as we were getting back on our feet, beginning to live again... War. Now we are losing young people. Again death, again sorrow, again pain. And I simply cannot comprehend: why war?

Call it what you will—I was deluded, or I made a mistake, or my mind was clouded by someone... I will stick to my opinion and my truth. And I don’t believe that anyone should be legally compelled to adhere to one truth or another.

The state prosecutor believes in a very different truth from mine. He is convinced of the existence of so-called “NATO sycophants” or that all independent media are financed from abroad. But the difference between our prosecutor and me is that I would never imprison him for this.

I am sorry if my actions have offended anyone. My incarceration, where I interacted with people very different from myself, helped me understand that every person believes in their truth. The same applies to attitudes towards the Special Military Operation. And it’s a great tragedy that we do not all share one truth and do not accept each other’s truths—this creates a rift in society, destroys families, and alienates close people from each other, heightens aggression, multiplies enmity on earth, and further distances us from the long-awaited peace. I would not be lying if I said that everyone in this room wishes for the same thing—peace.

Why wage war when we are all we have in this world, full of calamities, catastrophes, and hardships? Can all the wealth and power in the universe redeem your loved one from the clutches of death? No, neither money, power, career, apartments, nor cars.

We are all we have for each other. And I have beloved people who mean everything to me. They come to this room, and my life, health, and freedom matter to them. They don’t want me to be imprisoned. I have an elderly mother, a sister, a beloved girlfriend with a terrifying diagnosis—cancer. And so far, I know no one, except the state prosecutor, who wants me imprisoned.

Truthfully, I think even the state prosecutor deep down does not want this. I believe he joined the prosecution to imprison real criminals and villains—murderers, rapists, child abusers. But it turned out differently: one must imprison those who need to be imprisoned—and that’s the key to promotion. This is the established system. Let’s not pretend it’s not. I don’t blame you. You’re looking out for your career, a stable future to provide for your family, to feed them and keep a roof over their heads, to support your future or already born children. But what will you tell them? About how you jailed a seriously ill woman for five pieces of paper? No, naturally, you will talk about other cases. Perhaps you console yourself with the fact that you are just doing your job. But what will you do when the pendulum swings the other way?

It’s a historical law: liberals replace conservatives, conservatives—liberals. After the natural death of one political leader, another comes with an opposite course, and the first become the last, and the last—the first. You may find this strange, but I sympathise with you.

Despite being behind bars, I am freer than you. I can make my own decisions, say what I think, quit my job if I’m forced to do something I don’t want to. I have no enemies, I’m not afraid of being penniless or even homeless. I’m not scared of not making a brilliant career, appearing ridiculous, vulnerable, or strange. I’m not afraid to be different from others. Perhaps that’s why my state is so afraid of me and others like me and keeps me caged like a dangerous animal.

But man is not a wolf to man. It’s easy to be angry at each other over different positions, but loving each other, trying to understand and find compromises is very hard. So unbearably hard that sometimes it seems impossible—at such moments, violence or coercion seem like the only way out. But it’s not! We need to learn to love and resolve conflicts through words—this is the only way to climb out of the moral crisis we find ourselves in.

Your Honour! With your verdict, you can set an example for everyone—an example of how conflict can be resolved through words, love, mercy, compassion, and not through coercion to a so-called truth via a criminal sentence. This would be a big step towards reducing malice, towards the healing and reconciliation of society.

Your Honour! I understand that for you, this ist just a job, a routine case, working hours and a lot of paperwork. Probably, amidst this routine, as with any job, the essence is blurred and forgotten. But the truth is that you wield great power: todetermine human destinies. In this case, you hold my fate, my health, my life, and the happiness of my loved ones in your hands. I believe that you will wield this power wisely.

Editor: Dmitry Tkachev

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