January 02, 2024

Up to Seven Years for Poetry


Up to Seven Years for Poetry
A penitential center in Moscow.  Senate of Russian Federation, Flickr.

On December 28, Russian poets Artem Kamardin and Yegor Shtovba have been handed prison sentences for their anti-war poems, with Kamardin receiving seven years and Shtovba receiving five years and six months in a penal colony. Another poet involved in the case, Nikolay Dayneko, received a four-year prison sentence earlier.

The Moscow court found the poets guilty of "group incitement of hostility" toward members of the armed formations of the self-proclaimed separatist republics of the LPR and DPR, as well as calls for activities against the security of the state. The charges stemmed from the poets reading anti-war poems in Moscow's city center during the September 2022 Mayakovsliye Chteniya (Mayakovsky poetry readings), a traditional cultural event where poets gather at the monument to Vladimir Mayakovsky to read poems publicly.

During the September 2022 event, the poets responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine by organizing "anti-mobilization" public readings. Kamardin referred to Russia-friendly Ukrainian separatists as "terrorists" and expressed his views on the annexation of Ukrainian territories in a poem, saying, "Slava Kievskoy Rusy, Novorossiya Sosi" ("The glory of Kievan Rus is Novorossiya, suck it!").

Following the event, Kamardin was searched, and he reported police officers sexually assaulting him. Kamardin's girlfriend, Alexandra Popova, also reported torture, stating that security forces stuck stickers to her face with superglue, tried to seal her mouth, pulled out her hair, kicked her, and threatened rape. Then Kamardin was sent to a pre-trial detention center, along with Daineko and Shtovba, who repeated the reading lines from Kamardin's poem, according to investigators.

In court, Kamardin requested a suspended sentence, arguing that judging art is unacceptable as artistic statements can be interpreted in various ways. He emphasized that he had no intention of humiliating or insulting anyone and disclosed being diagnosed with "generalized anxiety disorder," asserting that his physical and mental health would not withstand a long prison sentence.

Shtovba, addressing the court, highlighted the lack of evidence connecting him to Kamardin or Daineko before their arrest. He asserted that he was unfamiliar with the other defendants, making it impossible for them to declare poems jointly. This case is one among many in Russia where participants in anti-war public actions receive lengthy prison sentences.

For instance, artist and former Bumaga employee Sasha Skochilenko was convicted of spreading "fakes" about the Russian army by placing price tags in a Perekrestok store with data about those being killed and bombed in Ukraine. According to the human rights project OVD-Info, nearly 800 people in Russia face criminal prosecution for their anti-war stance.

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