Reacting to the sentencing of Maria Ponomarenko, a journalist from Barnaul in Western Siberia, to six years in a penal colony for posting on social media about an attack by Russian forces on a theatre in Mariupol in which civilians were killed, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:
“Maria Ponomarenko’s sentence shows that in Russia telling the truth, denouncing a war crime and demanding justice for the killing of civilians, has itself become a grave offence punishable by many years in prison. Her sentence is yet another example of injustice and the cynicism of the authorities in Russia, which are disturbingly routine. The authorities are trying to lock up all those who disagree with them and intimidate others to stay silent and look the other way rather than risk years behind bars.”
In a statement to the court, Maria Ponomarenko, 44, who wore a print of the Star of David bearing the written inscription ‘Opposition activist, patriot, pacifist’ around her neck, said she did not consider herself a criminal.
“I have the right to say the word ‘war’ because I am being judged under the laws of military censorship,” she said referring to a ban by the Russian authorities on referring to invasion of Ukraine as a ‘war.’
Marie Struthers said: “Maria Ponomarenko and all those imprisoned in Russia for their criticism of the invasion of Ukraine should be immediately and unconditionally released.”
On 15 February, Leninsky District Court of Barnaul, Altay Kray, sentenced Maria Ponomarenko, a journalist with RusNews online media, to six years in a penal colony after finding her guilty of disseminating “knowingly false information” about the Russian Armed Forces, a new “crime” recently introduced as Article 207.3 to the Russian Criminal Code. She had been held in pre-trial detention since 24 April 2022.
In addition, she is prohibited from engaging in journalistic activities for five years after serving her sentence. The prosecution asked the court to sentence her to nine years in prison for posting a publication in the “Tsenzury net” (No Censorship) Telegram-channel. In it she wrote about the deaths of civilians hiding in a theatre in Mariupol after it was hit by a Russian airstrike. Twelve of those who died in the attack were identified by Amnesty International in a detailed report published in June 2022.