| 21 July 2024, Sunday |

Marina Ovsyannikova: Anti-war Russian journalist sentenced in absentia

Moscow’s court has sentenced journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who protested live on air against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to 8.5 years in jail.

The 45-year-old, who was tried in absentia, was found guilty of “spreading knowingly false information” about the Russian armed forces.

She fled Russia with her daughter last year after escaping from house arrest. She describes the charges as “absurd”.

Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

But Russia’s legislation makes it illegal to call the war an “invasion”. State-controlled news organisations are told to describe it as a “special military operation”.

Dozens of people have been either jailed or fined for “discrediting” the country’s military – in what rights groups say is an unprecedented crackdown on dissent under President Vladimir Putin.

In a statement on Wednesday, the court in the Russian capital announced that Maria Ovsyannikova was sentenced to eight years and six months imprisonment in a “general regime penal colony”.

It also banned her from engaging in any activities relating to electronic media – including the internet – for four years.

The charges were brought soon after she had staged a protest near Moscow’s Kremlin – President Putin’s official residence – in July 2022.

During the one-woman picket, she was seen holding a slogan that read in Russian “Putin is a murderer. His soldiers are fascists.”

During the trial, several Ovsyannikova family members, including her ex-husband and son, took the stand on the prosecution’s side, according to Russia’s Mediazone website.

Ovsyannikova’s current whereabouts are unknown. She has described the charges against her as “politically motivated”.

“Of course, I do not admit my guilt,” she wrote in a statement before the verdict.

She added that she had made “a very difficult but the only correct moral choice” and was now forced to live in exile.

Ovsyannikova also grabbed headlines around the world in March 2022, when she burst into a live news broadcast at the state-run Channel One TV station where she worked at the time, with a sign reading “no war, stop the war; don’t believe the propaganda; they’re lying to you here”.

Despite being targeted by the Russian authorities, many Ukrainian journalists and Russian dissidents have expressed mistrust of Ovsyannikova, pointing to her earlier career for the Russian state’s media.

Her visit to Ukraine last summer to cover the war for Germany’s Die Welt newspaper outraged many Ukrainians, who demanded her immediate sacking.