A Russian state TV editor who hijacked a prime-time news show to protest the war in Ukraine could face up to 15 years in prison.
Marina Ovsyannikova, 43, risked everything when she ran onto the set of Russia’s most-watched news programme on Kremlin-controlled Channel One on Monday.
She ran behind the anchor and waved a sign saying: ‘NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They are lying to you here.’
In a video recorded beforehand, she urged Russians to join anti-war protests and said ‘Russia is the aggressor country and one person, Vladimir Putin, solely bears responsibility for that aggression.’
Ms Ovsyannikova disappeared for 24 hours after the protest leading many to fear for the mum-of-two’s welfare.
Her lawyer said he could not make contact with the journalist or find her at the police station she was said to be held in, raising concerns for her safety.
Then yesterday, she appeared at a Moscow court and walked free after a judge fined her 30,000 roubles (£215).
Ms Ovsyannikova said she was not allowed to sleep in police custody and was interrogated for 14 hours.
‘These were very difficult days of my life because I literally went two full days without sleep, the interrogation lasted for more than 14 hours and they didn’t allow me to contact my family and close friends, didn’t provide any legal support,’ she said after she was released.
The fine was relatively light for a protest that shocked Russian television viewers and caught the world’s attention.
However, the fine was only for the video she recorded prior to the protest in which she said she was ‘ashamed’ of having worked at Channel One and spreading ‘Kremlin propaganda’ – not her interruption of the news broadcast.
It is feared Ms Ovsyannikova could still be hit with a prison sentence under new legislation brought in to stamp out ‘deliberately false information’ about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The new law has made it a crime to call the conflict a ‘war’ instead of military operation and carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years.
In another worrying detail, Russia’s state-run Tass news agency reported that Moscow’s Investigative Committee, a major crime unit, had opened a case on the journalist.
The unit was said to be gathering evidence against her for ‘knowingly spreading false information’ about the use of Russia’s armed forces.
Experts said it was still possible that prosecutors would bring tougher charges against Ms Ovsyannikova, but that it was now less likely following Tuesday’s hearing.
Pavel Chikov, the head of Agora International Human Rights Group told The Guardian: ‘There are still risks that a criminal case will be opened against Ovsyannikova, but the chances of that have sharply decreased after the fine that she received today.
‘She has been fined not for her performance, but for her video message in which she urged people to protest.’
‘No case has been opened yet against her performance, and the prosecutor’s office might still decide to do so,’ he continued.
‘But, the fact that she has already received a quick punishment indicates that a political decision has been made not to persecute her further.’
Ms Ovsyannikova’s act of defiance saw the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky personally thank her for her brave efforts and even saw France offer her sanctuary as a refugee.
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