MOSCOW — The father of a 12-year-old girl was convicted by a court in Russia on Tuesday for “discrediting the Russian Armed Forces” and sentenced to two years in prison, a decision that will lead to the loss of sole custody of his daughter if not overturned.
The case of the father, Aleksei Moskalyov, whose daughter has been in a state-run orphanage since he was arrested this month, has garnered attention because of the chilling penalty. Rights advocates say it also represents a new level of repression in a country where protesting is in effect banned, censorship is powerful and repression seems to escalate by the week.
Mr. Moskalyov’s daughter, Masha, was placed into state care on March 1, when he was detained in the town of Yefremov, 150 miles south of Moscow, for making antiwar statements on social media. She has not been able to speak to him since, according to his lawyer.
Mr. Moskalyov’s posts on Odnoklassniki, a Russian social network, came to the attention of the authorities after Masha got in trouble for making a pro-Ukrainian drawing during a school activity designed to generate support for the Russian military. The girl drew a picture showing a mother and daughter holding a “Glory to Ukraine” flag standing in the path of a Russian-fired rocket. Underneath, she wrote: “No to War.”
Thousands of Russians have been charged with similar crimes since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, according to the watchdog OVD-Info.
In the far eastern Russian region of Buryatia, Natalya Filonova, an independent journalist and activist, was imprisoned after protesting last year after over the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of men into the Russian army. After she broke the terms of her house arrest in October, she was jailed and therefore temporarily lost custody of the 16-year-old son of a deceased friend. The child, who is disabled, is now in an orphanage.
Other activists have reported being threatened by the police with losing custody of their children. Some worry that the decision presages a return to the Stalin-era practice of separating the children of those deemed “enemies of state” from their parents.
The verdict on Tuesday paves the way for Mr. Moskalyov to lose custody of his daughter while he serves a prison sentence. Masha’s mother has not been in the picture since the child was 3 years old, and there are no other close relatives present to take care of her. A custody hearing is set for April 6.
Mr. Moskalyov was not in the courtroom on Tuesday. His lawyer, Vladimir Biliyenko, came to court with a drawing that he said Masha had made and a letter that said: “Dad, you’re my hero.”