By Mark Trevelyan
(Reuters) – A Russian man who was investigated by police after his daughter drew an anti-war picture at school told a court in the regional capital of Tula on Monday that he would rather face capital punishment than be separated from her.
Alexei Moskalyov was sentenced in March to two years in a penal colony for discrediting the Russian army. He fled house arrest in the town of Yefremov, in the Tula region south of Moscow, and escaped to Belarus, but was quickly rearrested and returned to Russia.
At an appeal hearing on Monday, Moskalyov delivered an emotional speech in which he said “my heart bleeds every day” at the separation from his teenage daughter Masha, and said he would prefer the death penalty.
The court upheld the two-year sentence and additionally imposed a two-year ban on Moskalyov using the internet, his lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko told Reuters.
“He was speaking from the heart … He’s been without his daughter for a very long time, he said the child is his reason for living,” Biliyenko said. “He was trying to appeal to the court’s humanity, but it didn’t work.”
Moskalyov was convicted over comments he himself was alleged to have posted online about Russia’s war in Ukraine. But the investigation started after Masha, then 12, drew a picture last year showing Russian missiles raining down on a Ukrainian mother and child, prompting the head of her school to call the police.
The case drew world attention as Masha was removed from her father and placed in a children’s home before his trial. She is now living with her mother, who is estranged from Moskalyov, but father and daughter can still write to each other.
A family support group said some people in the courtroom cried when Moskalyov read out a letter from Masha in which she called him the world’s best father and told him: “We will be together, whatever happens.”
Biliyenko said Moskalyov could now be transferred from investigative detention to a penal colony at any time, but he would continue to appeal the case through two higher courts. “We will fight to the end,” he said.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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