Russian journalist Maria Ponomarenko has been detained and charged with disseminating false information. (Photo: Sota)

Russian authorities seek 9-year prison term for journalist Maria Ponomarenko, detain RFE/RL columnist Iskander Yasaveyev

Paris, February 7, 2023 – Russian authorities should immediately release journalist Maria Ponomarenko and columnist Iskander Yasaveyev and stop prosecuting members of the press over their reporting and commentary on the war in Ukraine, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On Monday, February 6, authorities in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan Republic, arrested Yasaveyev, a sociologist and columnist for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster RFE/RL, and ordered him to be detained for three days over an article he published about the war in Ukraine, according to multiple media reports.

Separately, on Tuesday, a prosecutor requested a nine-year prison term for Maria Ponomarenko, a correspondent for the independent news website RusNews, who has been charged with spreading “fake” information about the Russian army, according to news reports.

“By requesting a nine-year prison term for Maria Ponomarenko and arresting Iskander Yasaveyev, the Russian government is showing its firm resolve to punish any independent reporting on the war in Ukraine,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should immediately release Ponomarenko and Yasaveyev, drop all charges against them, and stop punishing members of the press who have courageously remained in Russia despite the country’s clampdown on the media.”

Authorities convicted Yasaveyev on a charge of inciting hatred towards politicians over a June 2022 article criticizing the war, which was published on Idel.Realii, a project of RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir service, according to those reports about his case.

In August 2022, police searched Yasaveyev ‘s home and took him in for questioning, as CPJ reported at the time. In October, he was added to Russia’s foreign agent register.

“Iskander Yasaveyev has been one of the most respected and popular commentators for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service for many years,” the service’s director, Rim Gilfanov, told CPJ.

Russian authorities have detained Ponomarenko since April 2022 and accused her of publishing false information in a now-shuttered Telegram news channel about an alleged Russian airstrike on a theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, for which Russian authorities deny responsibility.

On Tuesday, a government prosecutor at a hearing at the Leninsky District Court in the Siberian city of Barnaul requested that Ponomarenko be imprisoned for nine years, followed by a five-year ban on managing or posting on social media or other internet resources, according to those news reports about her case.

Ponomarenko’s lawyer Dmitriy Shitov told CPJ via messaging app that no date had been set for a verdict in the journalist’s case. RusNews journalist Irina Salomatova told CPJ via messaging app that she believed authorities may announce the verdict on February 14, the day Ponomarenko is scheduled to give her final statement to the court.

At least 19 journalists were behind bars in Russia on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.

CPJ emailed the Ministry of Justice for comment on both cases, but did not receive any responses.

Editor’s note: The spelling of Dmitriy Shitov’s name has been corrected in the tenth paragraph.