Russian Journalist Sentenced in Absentia for Antiwar Protest

By John Mercury October 5, 2023

A former Russian state television journalist who staged an on-air protest after the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine was sentenced in absentia on Wednesday to eight and a half years in a prison colony on charges of spreading false information about Russia’s army.

The journalist, Marina Ovsyannikova, who lives in France after escaping house arrest in Moscow last year, stormed a live broadcast of Russia’s most watched news program with a placard that read, “They’re lying to you,” weeks after the invasion began in February 2022.

The sentence, handed down by the Basmanny District Court in Moscow, and the house arrest were related to a separate protest that Ms. Ovsyannikova held in July last year. In that demonstration, she stood on an embankment across from the Kremlin and held a sign reading, “Putin is a murderer, his soldiers are fascists.”

In a post Tuesday on the Telegram app before the sentence was announced, Ms. Ovsyannikova called the charges against her “absurd” and “politically motivated.” She had received multiple fines for her protests before being arrested.

Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, Russia has clamped down harder on news and free speech than at any time in President Vladimir V. Putin’s more than two decades in power. Nearly 20,000 people have been detained for “antiwar positions” since February 2022, according to OVD-Info, a rights group that reports on repression in Russia. Some journalists and activists who criticized the Kremlin and the war in Ukraine have been given jail sentences as long as 25 years.

Ms. Ovsyannikova, who was born in Odesa, Ukraine, to a Russian mother and a Ukrainian father, worked for two decades as a journalist on Channel 1, a Russian state-run broadcaster whose flagship news program, “Vremya,” is seen as a mouthpiece for Kremlin propaganda.

“Sometimes I ask myself, could I have stayed silent?” Ms. Ovsyannikova wrote in her post on Telegram on Tuesday. “No, I couldn’t have. To stay silent during a moment of aggression is to become an accomplice to the crime.”

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