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

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FILE - Former Russian state TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova attends a press conference Friday, Feb. 10, 2023 in Paris, France. 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. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

A Moscow court on Wednesday sentenced a former state TV journalist 8 1/2 years in prison in absentia for protesting Russia's war in Ukraine, the latest in a crackdown on dissent that has intensified since the invasion began nearly 20 months ago.

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

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She staged a protest near the Kremlin in July 2022, holding a sign that said, “Putin is a killer. His soldiers are fascists. 352 children have been killed. How many more children need to die for you to stop?”

She 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.

Ovsyannikova formerly worked for state-run Channel One, one of Russia's most popular national TV stations. She made international headlines in March 2022 after appearing behind the anchor of a Channel One evening news broadcast with a sign 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).

Since the start of the invasion, nearly 8,000 Russians have faced misdemeanor charges and over 700 people have been implicated in criminal cases over publicly speaking out about or protesting the war, according to the OVD Info human rights and legal aid group.

The authorities have also used legislation outlawing criticism of what it insists on calling the “special military operation” to target opposition figures, human rights activists and independent media. Top critics have been sentenced to long prison terms, rights groups have been forced to shut down, independent news sites were blocked and independent journalists have left the country, fearing prosecution.

Many of those exiled abroad have been tried, convicted and sentenced to prison terms in absentia.

The scale of the crackdown has been unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia.