Published On: Fri, Oct 6th, 2023
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Russian journalist who protested Ukraine invasion on live TV is sentenced to over 8 years in prison, in absentia

A journalist known for protesting the invasion of Ukraine during an evening broadcast on Russian state-owned television was sentenced to over 8 years in prison for her activism efforts, a Moscow court announced Wednesday.

Marina Ovsyannikova made headlines last year when she walked onto the set of Russia’s Channel One with a sign that said “No war” and “They are lying to you here.” She was sentenced in absentia on Wednesday to 8 years and 6 months in a Russian penal colony, a statement released by the Moscow prosecutor’s office said.

The Basmanny District Court in Moscow charged Ovsyannikova for spreading false information about the Russian army during a demonstration she staged last year about the war in Ukraine, unrelated to her on-air protest.

Ovsyannikova, who is living in France under political asylum, called the charges “absurd and politically motivated.”

“I do not admit my guilt and I don’t go back on a single word,” said Ovsyannikova in a statement addressed to the court on Telegram. “I have made a very difficult, but the only correct moral choice in my life and have already paid a fairly high price for it.”

On a live stream by the channel Zhivoy Gvozd on Thursday, Ovsyannikova said the false information charge refers to a protest she staged on a river embankment opposite the Kremlin last year. She held a sign stating that 352 children had died in Ukraine, information she said was posted on the UN’s website, and could be looked at by any Russian citizen.

“Russian courts call this information about the number of children killed fake because it is not posted on the website of the Ministry of Defense. Therefore, criminal charges were brought against me,” said Ovsyannikova on the live stream.

Ovsyannikova may have been referring to a UN General Assembly session on Ukraine in February 2022, where it was announced that 352 Ukrainian civilians, including 16 children, had been killed. In August this year, the UN confirmed that at least 9,444 civilians have been killed in the Ukraine conflict, including 545 children.

On the live stream, the 45-year-old activist said that she is living in France under political asylum after fleeing house arrest in Russia with her 11-year-old daughter last year. She said she’s had a difficult time trying to find housing and work for the past six months.

“When you have an emergency emigration, you flee Russia with one suitcase,” Ovsyannikova said. “Everything that I had in Russia was taken away from me. And, so, living in France without money, without work, and without documents is quite a difficult test.”

Ovsyannikova was hired in November at German newspaper WELT. She said she left after 3 months, and was told to look for a bigger publication to provide her with the necessary security. WELT confirmed that Ovsyannikova’s contract had expired, but did not comment on the circumstances of her departure.

“We continue to have the greatest respect for Ms. Ovsyannikova’s courage and courage and wish her all the best,” said a spokesperson from WELT.

In a news release Wednesday, France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs denounced Ovsyannikova’s sentencing and commended her activism efforts.

“France is very concerned by the intensification of the campaign of repression carried out by the Russian authorities against voices critical of the government and its war of aggression against Ukraine,” the statement said.

According to the court sentencing, Ovsyannikova is on the international wanted list in Russia. She has been fined and interrogated multiple times for her activism efforts. After her on-air protest, she was interrogated for more than 14 hours and fined 30,000 rubles for “hooliganism.”

On the Zhivoy Gvozd livestream, Ovsyannikova said members of her family, including her mother and 18-year-old son, testified against her in court. Her ex-husband, who she said is an employee on the RussiaToday TV channel, filed a lawsuit against her to deprive her of parental rights.

Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova and executive director of Reporters Without Borders Christophe Deloire
Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova and executive director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Christophe Deloire give a press conference at RSF in Paris on Feb. 10.Joel Saget / AFP via Getty Images file

The Russian correctional colonies where Ovsyannikova would serve her sentence have been associated with multiple human rights abuses, including overcrowding, abuse by guards, and inadequate health care access. WNBA Basketball star Brittney Griner served a 10-month term in a Russian penal colony and described the experience as “unfathomable.”

According to a statement by the Moscow Prosecutor’s office, Ovsyannikova would also be deprived of her right to use the internet and other telecommunication networks for 4 years.

Only 0.25 percent of all cases sent through the Russian judicial system ended with not guilty verdicts, according to the Independent.

Ovsyannikova that she believes the decision to flee house arrest was the right one, despite the high price she has paid by living in exile.

“To remain silent at that moment meant to be complicit in this crime,” Ovsyannikova said on the livestream.

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