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Father of Russian sixth-grader who drew anti-war picture detained in Minsk

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A Russian man sentenced to two years in prison after his daughter’s anti-war drawing brought attention to his social media posts against the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been detained in Belarus after escaping house arrest in Russia just before sentencing.

The Belarusian Interior Ministry said on March 30 that Aleksei Moskalyov was detained in Minsk at Moscow’s request.

His lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, said earlier on March 30 that his client was most likely located and arrested after he switched on his mobile phone in Minsk. Zakhvatov added that Moskalyov’s phone currently was not responding.

Moskalyov was sentenced to two years in prison in absentia on March 28 by a court in the town of Yefremov after it convicted him of “discrediting Russia’s armed forces,” a charge Russian authorities have been using against any criticism of the war in Ukraine.

Moskalyov came to the attention of police after his 12-year-old daughter Maria drew a picture at school last year depicting a woman standing next to a Ukrainian national flag and protecting a child from missiles coming from Russia.

The school’s principal reported Maria Moskalyova to the police over her picture, after which law enforcement searched Moskalyov’s apartment.

Police then found Moskalyov’s online posts condemning the war in Ukraine, which featured a caricature of President Vladmir Putin.

Moskalyov was initially charged with “discrediting Russia’s armed forces” and ordered to pay a 32,000-ruble ($415) fine after a court found him guilty. In December, a criminal case was launched against him on the same charge. He was placed under house arrest and his daughter was sent to a shelter, where her phone was confiscated and she was not allowed to communicate with her father.

On March 12, authorities in Yefremov asked a court to deprive Moskalyov of custody over his daughter. The same motion was made against Moskalyov’s estranged wife.

Putin signed a law shortly after launching Russia’s invasion last February that criminalizes the expression of any thoughts or reports contradicting official statements regarding the full-scale aggression against Ukraine.

Moskalyov is one of dozens of Russian citizens, including politicians, journalists, and rights activists, who have been handed prison terms for voicing dissent since the law was approved.