Russian journalist gets 6 years in penal colony over Ukraine war

The Kremlin has banned the spread of ‘false information’ or any criticism about the Russian army during the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.

A view of a penal colony in Russia where authorities often sentence those critical of the government [File: Yulia Morozova/Reuters]

A Russian journalist was sentenced to six years in a penal colony after accusing the Russian air force of bombing a theatre in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol last year.

According to court documents released on Wednesday, the Lenin district court in the Siberian city of Barnaul also banned Maria Ponomarenko, 44, from working as a journalist for five years.

The court found Ponomarenko, who worked for the RusNews portal, guilty of “spreading false information about the Russian armed forces’ actions” with her posts on a messaging app.

“Patriotism is love for the motherland, and love for one’s motherland should not be expressed by encouraging crime,” Ponоmarenko told the court before her sentencing, according to the RusNews outlet. “Attacking your neighbour is a crime.”

A photo of the outside of the damaged Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre building with three cars in front of it.
People walk past the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 16, 2022 [File: Alexei Alexandrov/AP Photo]

The Europe and Central Asia coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, Gulnoza Said, issued a statement on Ponomarenko’s sentencing.

“Russian authorities should be ashamed of the six-year prison sentence given to journalist Maria Ponomarenko, whose sole so-called crime was publishing information about the war in Ukraine that did not conform to the official narrative.

“Authorities should not contest Ponomarenko’s appeal, drop all the charges against her, and stop jailing independent voices.”

The verdict is the latest in a series of rulings in Russia that ban criticism of the war.

In the early days of the conflict, the Kremlin approved legislation that penalised the spread of “false information” or criticism about the country’s military campaign, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

Some members of Russia’s political opposition, activists, journalists, and bloggers have previously been convicted and imprisoned under the law.

In December, prominent opposition politician Ilya Yashin was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. Earlier last year, Alexei Gorinov, a member of a Moscow municipal council, received a seven-year sentence for his critical remarks about the hostilities in Ukraine.

Another leading opposition figure, Vladimir Kara-Murza, has been in custody awaiting trial on the same charge.

Mariupol theatre attack

The Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol was destroyed by an air strike that killed 300 people on March 16, 2022, after it was used as a safe haven.

Kyiv has previously accused Russia of targeting the theatre. Moscow denies the allegation and says Ukrainian nationalists blew it up.

An investigation by human rights group Amnesty International found Russian forces guilty of a war crime after striking the theatre. Russia says it goes to great lengths to avoid hurting civilians.

Mini map showing Mariupol's location within Ukraine


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies