Aleksandra Skochilenko Sentenced to 7 Years for Supermarket Art Project
Barbaric responses to public art underscore Russia’s desperate need to control public opinion
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(NEW YORK) – Russian artist, musician, and author Aleksandra (Sasha) Skochilenko was sentenced to seven years in prison today for “knowingly spreading false information about the Russian Armed Forces.” She was also banned from using the internet for three years. Her offense? – replacing a handful of price tags in a Saint Petersburg supermarket with messages urging shoppers to see beyond the propaganda and stop the war in Ukraine.
“Rule of law in Russia has become a sham, and barbaric responses like this to art and protest only underscore the government’s desperate need to influence public opinion. Instead of allowing for open discourse based on facts, authorities revert to spreading misinformation and shutting down all avenues of free expression, including the work of artists and writers like Sasha,” said Polina Sadovskaya, Advocacy and Eurasia Director at PEN America.
“Unfortunately, this outrageous and completely unjustifiable verdict comes as little surprise. Authoritarian governments regularly target artists and writers, instinctively understanding the ability they have to promote independent thought. Writers, artists, and cultural workers are essential for a free society, which makes protecting their well-being particularly crucial.
“In her final statement to the court, Sasha asked the judge to employ wisdom and compassion and to set her free, but to no avail. Sasha’s health has deteriorated significantly during the year and a half already spent behind bars waiting for today’s decision, and we are concerned about the impact of imprisonment on her health.”
PEN America and the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) urge international bodies like the United Nations, as well as democratic governments, to establish a normative framework ensuring the protection of artists at risk. Additionally, we request that the UN special procedures – especially the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders – issue a joint statement calling for the immediate release of Aleksandra Skochilenko.
- Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) and PEN America will release a Russian-language version of the Safety Guide for Artists early next month.
- PEN America’s recent Taming Culture in Georgia report documents government attempts at controlling public opinion by suppressing free speech and attempting to control writers, artists, and cultural workers.
- PEN America is actively monitoring several other cases in Russia, including the detention of journalists Alsu Kurmasheva and Evan Gershkovich.