Paris, February 15, 2023 – In response to news reports that a Russian court on Wednesday sentenced journalist Maria Ponomarenko to six years in prison, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement of condemnation:
“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,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should not contest Ponomarenko’s appeal, drop all the charges against her, and stop jailing independent voices.”
On Wednesday, February 15, a court in the Siberian city of Barnaul convicted Ponomarenko of spreading false information about the Russian military and sentenced her to six years in prison, along with a five-year ban on journalistic activities, according to those reports. Ponomarenko’s lawyer Dmitriy Shitov told CPJ via messaging app that the journalist planned to appeal the verdict and is imprisoned while that appeal is pending.
Russian authorities have detained Ponomarenko, a correspondent for independent news website RusNews, 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 February 7, prosecutors requested that Ponomarenko receive a nine-year sentence. In her final statement on Tuesday, Ponomarenko said that she might have asked for leniency if she had committed a real crime, but said she had not.
CPJ emailed the Ministry of Justice for comment, but did not receive any response. At least 19 journalists, including Ponomarenko, were behind bars in Russia on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.