Russian court sentences Colombian man to 5 years in prison for 'fake news'

(Reuters) - A Colombian man has been sentenced to five years and two months in prison for spreading "fake news" about the actions of Russian armed forces in Ukraine in a rare case of Russia applying its war censorship laws against a foreigner, independent Russian news outlet Mediazona reported on Tuesday.Alberto Enrique Giraldo Saray was found guilty of disseminating fake news about the Russian army, violating a law passed last year that has been used to crack down on journalists, human rights advocates and others who voice opposition to what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

The charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and up to 5 million rubles ($60,000) in fines.Giraldo Saray's trial at the Golovinsky District Court of Moscow was held behind closed doors, Mediazona reported. It did not say if he pleaded not guilty to the charges.The Colombian was arrested in April 2022 after investigators say he purchased mobile phones and SIM cards and placed them in a shopping centre in Moscow.

Accomplices then remotely sent mass messages to the phones containing "knowingly false information" about the conduct of Russian soldiers in Ukraine including the murder of civilians, according to a statement from the public prosecutor's office released last December.Two accomplices, Briseño Mendoza and Ramirez Salazar, who were outside Russia at the time, transferred money and cryptocurrencies to Giraldo Saray as payment, the public prosecutor's office said. The two men have been placed on a wanted list.On his social media pages, Giraldo Saray has expressed pro-Russian views. One Facebook post, written in Spanish, calls Ukrainian soldiers "neo-Nazis" and suggests that the Russian invasion was precipitated by NATO expansion eastward - sentiments that mirror the Kremlin's own narrative of the conflict.According to Russian human rights network OVD-Info, nearly 20,000 people have been detained at anti-war protests in Russia since the full-scale invasion began last February, and criminal cases have been initiated against more than 500 individuals.But the case against Giraldo Saray stands out as few other foreigners have been imprisoned for such offences. Last March, authorities charged prominent Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Gordon with discrediting the army and propagating false information about its activities.Russian business daily Kommersant reported last year that Giraldo Saray lived in Moscow for 20 years and holds a Russian passport. He also held a valid visa to the United States, posing a potential flight risk, Kommersant reported."There are no winners or losers in a war," Giraldo Saray wrote on Facebook three days after the Feb. 24 invasion last year. "EVERYBODY LOSES!"

(Reporting by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Angus MacSwan)