A Russian journalist who protested her country’s invasion of Ukraine on a live news broadcast on Russian TV has appeared in court, after being charged with organising an unauthorised public event.
Marina Ovsyannikova staged a protest on Monday on Channel One. She was detained after shouting during the segment: “Stop the war. No to war.”
Lawyers initially reported that she was missing after the protest and they had been searching for her all of Monday night. However, local reports published a photograph of her and lawyer Anton Gashinsky apparently in court on Tuesday.
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Ovsyannikova’s highly-publicised protest comes as Russian authorities continue to crack down on anti-war demonstrators, who have taken to the streets across the country to condemn Vladimir Putin’s actions.
According to reports, 14,940 arrests have been made during anti-war demonstrations in Russia since 24 February, when the war began.
Ovsyannikova is an editor at Channel One, which was the first television channel to broadcast in the Russian Federation in 1995, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Channel One, which was previously called Russian Public TV (Obshchestvennoe Rossiyskoye Televidenie or ORT), has been criticised for reporting with a pro-government bias.
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According to state media reports, Ovsyannikova was born in Odesa in 1978 and has two children. In a video she released on Monday, she said her father was Ukrainian and her mother Russian and added that they “were never enemies”.
During a live broadcast, the journalist ran onto the set behind a news anchor and held up a placard with the words: “No war, stop the war, don’t believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.”
The news anchor continued to read from the teleprompter in a louder voice as Ovsyannikova shouted and the channel switched to a recorded segment shortly after she appeared on camera.
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Before staging her protest during the live broadcast, Ovsyannikova released a pre-recorded via through OVD-Info and Telegram, in which she admitted she was “ashamed” for working at Channel One and spreading “Kremlin propaganda”.
She said: “Regrettably, for a number of years, I worked on Channel One and worked on Kremlin propaganda, I am very ashamed of this right now.
“Ashamed that I was allowed to tell lies from the television screen. Ashamed that I allowed the zombification of the Russian people.
“We were silent in 2014 when this was just beginning. We did not go out to protest when the Kremlin poisoned [opposition leader Alexei] Navalny.”
She continued: “We were just silently watching this anti-human regime. And now the whole world has turned away from us and the next 10 generations won’t be able to clean themselves from the shame of this fratricidal war.”
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Ovsyannikova was charged with the “organisation of an unauthorised public event”, an offence that carries a maximum sentence of 15 days in prison.
However, Russia’s TAS news agency cited a law enforcement source as saying that state investigators were looking at whether she could be punished under a new law that bans the spread of “fake news” about Russia’s army.
The legislation was adopted eight days after Russia launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and makes public actions aimed at discrediting Russia’s army illegal.
If Ovsyannikova is charged under the new law, she could face a jail term of up to 15 years.
The Kremlin condemned her act of dissent as “hooliganism”, with spokesperson Dmitry Peskov telling reporters that the “channel and those who are supposed to will get to the bottom of this”.
UN human rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing in Geneva: “We would urge the authorities to ensure she does not face any reprisals for exercising her right to freedom of expression.”
Aside from criticism by Russian authorities, Ovsyannikova has been widely praised for voicing her opposition to the war in Ukraine, including by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky said: “I am grateful to the Russians who do not stop trying to convey the truth and personally to the woman who entered the studio of Channel One with a poster against the war.
“To those who are not afraid to protest, while your country has not yet closed itself off from the whole world. You must fight, you must not lose your chance.”
Navalny also spoke out and described Ovsyannikova as “wonderful”. Speaking in court on Tuesday, the Kremlin opposition leader said: “You can’t imprison everyone. Russia is big, there are many people, and not everyone is ready to betray their future and the future of their children.”
The UK’s foreign office minister James Cleverly called Ovsyannikova’s stunt “really important” in arming those in Russia and praised her “huge degree of bravery”.
“We see people protesting on the streets in Russia. We saw that protest on the Russian news programme. These are incredibly important,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“It shows a huge degree of bravery for those individuals to protest against what we know is an oppressive, authoritarian state, but it’s really important that the Russian people understand what is being done in their name.
“They have been systematically lied to by Vladimir Putin and it’s really important they understand the truth of what’s going on.”
Photo Credit: Getty