Last April, 12-year-old Masha Moskalyova was asked to draw a picture for an art class showing her support for Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine.
Instead, she drew a mother and child standing in the path of missiles with the captions “no to war” and “glory to Ukraine”.
The next day, his father Alexey Moskalyev, who was raising him alone in the town of Yefremov in the Tula region, about 200 km (125 miles) south of Moscow, was called to his school.
The father and daughter were taken away in police cars.
Alexey was questioned by local officers, who found derogatory comments he had made online about the Russian military, comparing them to rapists.
In court, Alexey was fined 32,000 rubles ($420) for discrediting the armed forces.
The next day, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents came to Masha’s school, accused her father of poor education and said that Masha should be taken away. After that, Masha was too scared to go to class.
Alexey was eventually arrested and Masha was taken into care – a sign of how far Russian authorities will crack down on criticism of the war in Ukraine.
On December 30, 2022, five police cars and a fire truck had parked outside their home.
Alexey told Russian human rights group OVD-Info that he didn’t want to let them in without a warrant, but he opened the door when they started barging in.
Police and the FSB ransacked the apartment, allegedly taking the family’s savings, cell phones, laptops and Masha’s anti-war drawing.
As of this writing, Russian authorities — including the Tula Region Investigative Commission — had not responded to a request for comment.
Alexey claimed his head was banged against a wall and he was locked in a room with the national anthem blaring. He was then again accused of having discredited the army; he now faces up to three years in prison.
Last week, Alexey was held for two days in a remand center while Masha, now 13, was taken to a children’s shelter.
According to his lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko, Alexey has since been released and is under house arrest.
“Alexey is under house arrest, he is only allowed to contact me and the investigators,” Biliyenko told Al Jazeera by phone.
“Masha is in a shelter. We are working to get her back and the house arrest is lifted. We filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation. If the father is sentenced to prison, the daughter will be sent to a children’s home.
“The charge carries a maximum of three years, so it’s not that serious, and an actual prison sentence is relatively rare. But it’s a political matter, so it could go either way.
Biliyenko has not commented on the alleged mistreatment of Alexey while in custody.
Svetlana Davydova, head of Efremov’s commission for juvenile affairs, told Russian state media RBC the Moskalyevs had been placed on a list of “families in socially dangerous situations”, and that she had filed a lawsuit. a lawsuit to deprive the mother of Alexey and Masha, who lives in another city, of her parental rights.
Masha is currently stuck at the children’s center, which told local media that she will not be released.
“It is common for the whole family to be drawn into the persecution, even if only one member is ‘guilty’ in the eyes of the regime – especially if that person is a minor,” said Dan Storyev, editor-in-chief of OVD-Info English , at Al Jazeera.
In October last year, a 10-year-old Moscow schoolgirl was arrested after her classmates’ parents complained that her profile picture in a class group chat was “Saint Javelin”, a meme that is become a war symbol of the Ukrainian resistance – the Virgin Mary dressed in yellow and blue, holding a big gun.
Later, the girl and her mother were questioned and their home searched, but in the end no charges were brought.
In another case in Eastern Siberia, the 16-year-old son of anti-war protester Natalia Filonova was sent to a remote orphanage 300 km (186 miles) from his home, while she was detained for participating in a rally and allegedly assaulted two police officers. with a ballpoint pen.
“We are currently witnessing a worrying trend of minors being persecuted by the regime, along with their families,” Storyev continued. “The regime’s goal is to inspire fear, so they threaten families with separation, claiming that parents do not bring up children properly – as was the case with Alexey [Moskalyev].”
Storyev listed other instances where under-18s clashed with authorities after expressing anti-war positions.
He said that in Moscow, police stopped at a boy’s home and cut the electricity after he voiced his position on Ukraine. Two high school students were harassed by the public for refusing to stand during the Russian national anthem and playing the Ukrainian anthem instead. In Yekaterinburg, another child was publicly reprimanded for writing a letter to a soldier, urging him not to kill and to go home. And a 16-year-old was fined for saying if he was drafted he would fight for Ukraine, Storyev said.
“According to our data, at least 544 minors have been detained during anti-war protests over the past year, and seven minors are currently being criminally prosecuted for their anti-war positions,” he said. “In particular, minors are targeted for sharing messages or comments about anti-war rallies, distributing anti-mobilization and anti-war leaflets, organizing solo protests, expressing anti-war views at school events. , manifest [an] anti-war clothing and make anti-war inscriptions.
Storyev also mentioned that there have been cases where young teenagers have been arrested for more direct action, such as sabotaging railways and burning down military conscription offices.
Meanwhile, authorities are trying to win the younger generation over to their way of thinking, with classes to instill patriotism and an after-school program of “important conversations,” examining recent events from the perspective of the Kremlin.
“The regime is trying to bring children into a heavily militarized culture,” Storyev said. “Attempts to do this continued long before the war – the state sponsors cadet schools and cadet classes in regular schools. [Masha] went to such a school with cadet courses,” he said.
“Through attacks on schools, children and parents, the Kremlin aims to destroy and terrify Russian civil society, but despite everything, Russian activists – including children and parents – continue to stand up against the war, even at horrendous cost.”
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