Former Russian state TV journalist gets 8 1/2-year sentence in absentia for Ukraine war criticism

A court in Moscow on Wednesday handed a former state TV journalist a 8 1/2-year prison term in absentia for protesting Russia’s war in Ukraine, the latest in a months-long crackdown against dissent that has intensified since Moscow’s invasion 20 months ago.

Marina Ovsyannikova was charged with spreading false information about the Russian army, a criminal offense under a law adopted shortly after the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine.

She held a picket in the Russian capital in July 2022, and held a poster that said “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin is a killer. His soldiers are fascists. 352 children have been killed (in Ukraine). How many more children need to die for you to stop?”

Ovsyannikova, who until March 2022 worked at for Russia’s state-run Channel One, was detained and placed under house arrest, but managed to escape to France with her daughter. Russian authorities put her on a wanted list and prosecuted and tried her in absentia.

In March, 2022 Ovsyannikova made international headlines after appearing behind the anchor of an evening Channel One news broadcast with a poster that said “Stop the war, don’t believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.” She quit her job at the channel, was charged with disparaging the Russian military and fined 30,000 rubles ($270 at the time).

Thousands of Russians have been fined and hundreds have faced criminal charges over publicly speaking out or protesting against the war in the last 20 months. The Kremlin has used legislation outlawing criticism of what it insists on calling a “special military operation” to target opposition figures, human rights activists and independent media.

Top Kremlin critics have been handed lengthy prison terms, rights groups have been forced to shut down, independent news sites were blocked and independent journalists have left the country, fearing prosecution.

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