The quiet little town of Yefremov in the region of Tula, just shy of a three-hour drive south of the capital Moscow, is notorious all over Russia. In particular, people will have have heard about School No. 9 and its erstwhile sixth-grader Maria "Masha" Moskaleva. Her story illustrates the harshness of the laws with regard to "discrediting" the Russian armed forces.
In April last year, Masha and her class were asked to draw pictures in support of the Russian forces in Ukraine. The 12-year-old drew two flags, a Russian one with the inscription "No to war" and a Ukrainian flag that read "Glory to Ukraine," and in between, she drew a woman with a child targeted by Russian missiles.
Summoned to the police
The school administration reacted promptly. The very next day, Masha's father Alexei Moskalev was summoned. He and his daughter were questioned by the police and the youth welfare services. Moskalev, a single father, was accused of not having raised his daughter well. The authorities claimed they had found comments criticizing the army on social media, and fined him the equivalent of almost €500 ($541) for "discrediting" the Russian army.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) also interrogated Masha and her father. From that day on, Masha refused to go to school — she was afraid, Moskalev later told the independent Russian site OVD-Info.
Knocked to the ground
At the end of the year, the police showed up on their doorstep. "On the morning of 30th of December I got a phone call at half past six," Moskalyov told OVD-Info. "I was getting ready for work. I looked out of the window and I was stupefied. There were three police cars around the house, two more cars at the side, an MES (Ministry of Emergency Situations) car and a fire truck a little further.
About twelve people from the Federal Security Service and some policemen got out of the cars and headed for our entrance. They had an angle grinder. I immediately understood that they were here for us."
Moskalev said that the officers were not delicate during the search, pulling clothes out of the closets, tearing pictures from the walls and overturning furniture. He added that they confiscated savings worth about $3,150 with made them suspicious. During a later interrogation, he was asked where the money was from and whom he was working for. He was knocked against the wall and to the ground.
From hiding to house arrest
Immediately afterwards the two decided to flee and went into hiding in a neighboring town. Police discovered them on March 1 of this year. Moskalev was placed under house arrest and was charged with repeated "discreditation of the military." He was also accused of being responsible for other posts criticizing the army on social media, but he rejected the claims and said that his account must have been hacked. The authorities also started proceedings to revoke Moskalev's right to raise his daughter, who was placed in an orphanage.
On March 27, after deliberating for just one day, the court decided on the sentence: two years in a penal colony for the single father.
The verdict was announced a day later in the defendant's absence. According to the court, Moskalyov had fled the night before.
His whereabouts are currently unknown.
Olga Podolskaya, a member of Yefremov's city parliament, was shocked at the verdict. "A real prison sentence for an opinion on the internet, that's just terrible!" she told DW. She said that she was particularly concerned about Masha, whom she had repeatedly tried to contact. There has been no trace of her for weeks, except for one letter that she wrote to her father. It ends with the words: "Dad, you're my hero!"
This article was originally written in German.