A Moscow court fined a state television editor on Tuesday for a video condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine after she crashed a live newscast to protest the invasion.
Marina Ovsyannikova was fined Rbs30,000 ($280) for violating public order in the video, in which she urged Russians to protest against the war, saying: “What’s happening in Ukraine is a crime and Russia is the aggressor. The responsibility for this aggression lies with one man: [Russian president] Vladimir Putin.”
Ovsyannikova is still facing investigation over the protest itself in which she appeared live on air for a few seconds during Russia’s main state evening newscast, holding a sign that said “Stop the war — Don’t believe propaganda — They’re lying to you” and chanting “Stop the war! No to war!”
Her supporters are concerned that she could receive a sentence of up to 15 years in prison under a draconian new law that criminalises acts such as “discrediting the Russian armed forces” and spreading “fake news” about the conflict.
Police detained Ovsyannikova immediately after her protest and held her incommunicado throughout the night while her lawyers fruitlessly searched for her.
In a brief statement to reporters after her hearing, Ovsyannikova said police interrogated her for 14 hours and did not let her sleep, contact relatives, or access legal counsel.
Ovsyannikova’s extraordinary protest is the most high profile display of discontent in Russia nearly three weeks into the war.
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, has praised her for “telling the truth”, while France’s Emmanuel Macron said he would offer her asylum or protection at the country’s Moscow embassy.
Other state TV employees have quit in protest, including Lilia Gildeyeva, an anchor at the state-run NTV channel, and several staffers at state-funded foreign-language news network RT.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, told reporters Ovsyannikova’s protest was an act of “hooliganism” that carried “a special dimension and special responsibility” for taking place on live TV.
But Margarita Simonyan, editor of RT, said the misdemeanour charges showed Russia was more accepting of dissent than the West.
“They’re used to knocking out their protest girls’ eyes with rubber bullets straight away and they think: what, then, will animals like us come up with? Quarter her in public? Nothing will happen to her. Despite the public uproar,” she wrote on messaging app Telegram.
Ovsyannikova’s arrest comes as Russia has drastically ramped up its already far-reaching restrictions on dissent during the war.
Nearly 15,000 people have been detained in cities across the country for protesting against the war in Ukraine, according to data compiled by Ovd-Info, an independent organization that tracks detentions.
At least 164 people have been charged under the new law, according to the Net Freedoms Project, a public defenders’ association for freedom of speech cases.
The law has also essentially destroyed what little remained of Russia’s independent media, with some outlets being forced to close and others shutting down voluntarily or deciding not to cover the war.