(MENAFN) The fate of a 13-year-old Russian girl, Maria, who drew a pro-peace sketch, is uncertain after her father, Alexei Moskalyov, fled house arrest to avoid prison time for criticizing Moscow's assault on Ukraine. Moskalyov received a two-year sentence for "discrediting" the Russian army, and has been separated from his daughter since early March as punishment for his criticism of Kremlin policies. Maria was taken away from him and placed in a local "rehabilitation centre" for minors, where the two have been denied contact. The case has garnered national attention as Moscow cracks down on criticism of the offensive in Ukraine.^1
On Wednesday, Moskalyov's lawyer, Vladimir Biliyenko, visited the "rehabilitation centre" but found that Maria was not there. He said that it appears that she is being hidden, and that he was not aware of her father's whereabouts. Biliyenko also stated that it is now "difficult to predict" what will happen to Maria. Moskalyov is at risk of losing parental rights in a separate trial set to begin on April 6.^1
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended Moskalyov's sentencing, describing the father's parenting as "deplorable." However, in a letter published on social media, Maria called her father "the bravest person in the world" and expressed her love for him. She stated that she knows he is not guilty of anything and that they will be together. Moskalyov's lawyer confirmed the authenticity of the letter.^1
The case has drawn criticism from human rights activists, who have accused Moscow of violating Maria's rights and using her as leverage against her father. Moskalyov's lawyer also criticized Russia's children's rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova and rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova for not getting involved in the case, stating that "the fate of a child is being decided here and they are not interested."^1
The case highlights the ongoing crackdown on dissent in Russia and the consequences of speaking out against the government's policies. It also underscores the vulnerability of children caught in political conflicts and the need to protect their rights and well-being.^1
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