MOSCOW — The father of a 12-year-old girl was convicted by a local court in Russia on Tuesday for “discrediting the Russian Armed Forces” and sentenced to two years in prison, a decision whose consequence would be the loss of sole custody of his daughter if not overturned.
But the father, Aleksei Moskalyov, did not wait to hear the sentence: He fled his house arrest, a spokeswoman for the court in the town of Yefremov, 150 miles south of Moscow, told the local news media.
The case of Mr. Moskalyov, whose daughter has been in a state-run orphanage since he was arrested this month, has garnered widespread attention because of the chilling prospect of long-term separation for father and child. 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.
Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service said that Mr. Moskalyov left his apartment at 4:41 a.m. on Tuesday, about 11 hours before the verdict was announced. The agency said it had no information on his whereabouts.
Masha’s mother has not been in the picture since the child was 3 years old, and there are no other close relatives to take care of her, Mr. Moskalyov’s lawyer said.
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 last April designed to generate support for the Russian military. The girl drew a picture showing a mother and daughter holding a “Glory to Ukraine” flag and standing in the path of a Russian-fired rocket. Underneath, she wrote: “No to War.”
The next day, Mr. Moskalyov and his daughter were taken away from the school by police officers and he was placed under house arrest, according to OVD-Info, a Russian watchdog group. He was told that he was being investigated for a post that read: “The Russian Army. The perpetrators are near us.”
He was fined 32,000 rubles, about $400. He withdrew Masha from classes and began home-schooling her.
On Dec. 30, he told OVD-Info, investigators searched their home and beat him. He took his daughter to another city in the Tula region, about 60 miles from Yefremov.
Thousands of Russians have been charged with criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine since the full-scale invasion last year, according to OVD-Info.
In the far eastern region of Buryatia, Natalya Filonova, an independent journalist and activist, was imprisoned after protesting last year 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.
When Mr. Moskalyov’s lawyer, Vladimir Biliyenko, arrived at the court on Tuesday, he carried a drawing that he said Masha had made and a letter that read: “Dad, you’re my hero.”
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