Russian Twitch streamer sentenced to more than 5 years in prison for criticizing the invasion of Ukraine

 Russian blogger Anna Bazhutova, charged with spreading "fake information" on the Russian army, appears before the Ostankino district court in Moscow on June 5, 2024. A Moscow court on June 5, 2024, sentenced Anna Bazhutova to 5,5 years in jail for livestreaming witness testimony about the Russian army during the occupation of the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. (Photo by Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP) (Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images).

Russian streamer Anna Bazhutova, known on Twitch as Yokobovich, has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison for livestreaming witness accounts of alleged atrocities committed by the Russian army during its occupation of the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

French news agency AFP, via the Moscow Times, says Bazhutova was found guilty of spreading false information about the Russian army on her Twitch channel. The live broadcast originally occurred in June 2023, according to the report (although other sources, including Radio Free Europe, say the incident took place in 2022), and included witness accounts of massacres carried out by Russian forces. The government of Ukraine has made similar allegations of mass killings conducted by withdrawing Russian forces that left hundreds dead; Russia has rejected the claims and said evidence of the massacres was "staged" by the West.

At some point after Bazhutova's stream, Russian bloggers supporting the war filed complaints with police, shortly after which her home was searched and her electronic devices confiscated. She was later arrested and has reportedly been held in pre-trial detention since August 2023.

Bazhutova's Twitch channel was banned in March 2023 for violating the platform's terms of service, although the specifics of the violation are unknown as Twitch doesn't publicly share details relating to channel bans. Fragments of it remain visible through the Wayback Machine.

Russia outlawed "discrediting" or spreading "false" information about its military in 2022 shortly after launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine; in 2023 it expanded that legislation to encompass virtually any group fighting for Russia, including mercenary units like the Wagner Group. The Moscow Times noted in a separate report that the crackdown "has led to the silencing of nearly all anti-war statements and news that clashes with the Kremlin’s narrative of the war."

Probably the best-known target of the new Russian laws, at least among gamers, is Metro 2033 author Dmitry Glukhovsky, who has been vocally critical of the invasion of Ukraine, and of Russian ruler Vladimir Putin directly. Glukhovsky was sentenced to eight years in prison for speaking out against the invasion, but evaded imprisonment because he's not actually in Russia. Bazhutova, a resident of Moscow, was not so lucky.

We consider streamer Anna Bazhutova (YokoBovich) a political prisoner  She was arrested for posting videos about Russian war crimes in Bucha
We consider streamer Anna Bazhutova (YokoBovich) a political prisoner She was arrested for posting videos about Russian war crimes in Bucha

(Image credit: Political Prisoners Memorial (Twitter))

"We consider streamer Anna Bazhutova (YokoBovich) a political prisoner," the Political Prisoners Memorial website wrote when Bazhutova was arrested in 2023. "The criminal case against Bazhutova violates her right to freedom of speech and is designed to silence the voices of people in Russia who criticise the war against Ukraine.

"Concerning the war crimes in Bucha, the accusation of publishing 'knowingly false' information is untenable, since international investigations under the auspices of the United Nations, where Russia is still a member, point to the guilt of the Russian side."

Bazhutova's lawyer described the sentence as "harsh" and said they will appeal. Bazhutova herself was someone more pointed in her comments. "It's f**ked up," she said while in the witness box. "It's disgusting and vile."