Maria Ponomarenko

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Russian authorities have detained journalist Maria Ponomarenko since April 2022 on charges of spreading “fake” information about the Russian army. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.  

On April 23, 2022, authorities in St. Petersburg detained Ponomarenko, a correspondent for independent news website RusNews, and charged her with disseminating false information about the Russian military, according to her outlet and multiple news reports

On April 27, a judge in St. Petersburg ordered her to be detained for two months, pending investigation, according to Sibir.Realii, the Siberia-focused project run by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 

Ponomarenko was charged under Article 207.3.2.e of the criminal code, according to those news reports, which bans disseminating false information on the basis of “political, ideological, racial, national, or religious hatred.” 

Authorities allege that she was connected to the now-shuttered Telegram news channel “No Censorship,” and that she published a post about the Russian bombing of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, according to those news reports and the banned human rights organization Memorial. Authorities claimed that Ponomarenko published false information that the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out an airstrike on the Drama Theater in Mariupol, even though she was aware that the Ministry of Defense and other official sources had denied  responsibility. 

On March 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin enacted amendments to the criminal code that impose prison terms for spreading “fake” information, specifically about the Russian military, as CPJ documented and media reported, in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. 

Ponomarenko’s lawyer Dmitry Chitov told CPJ via messaging app that she denied the charges. Chitov told CPJ that according to Ponomarenko, this criminal case could be connected to her “previous activities,” but did not specify which ones. Ponomarenko also claimed authorities had not shown that she was connected to the post, according to independent news outlet SOTA

On June 16, SOTA reported that Ponomarenko claimed that charges against her are retaliation for her attempts in 2020 to draw attention to the lack of housing for orphans in her hometown of Barnaul. RusNews journalist Irina Salomatova told CPJ via messaging app that Ponomarenko had joined RusNews in spring 2021. “The scandal with housing for orphans took place in 2020, even before she came to us. Maria revealed this corruption scheme as an activist and blogger.” Salomatova said. 

Ponomarenko recently covered protests in Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg against the Russian invasion of Ukraine for RusNews, and she was previously detained and fined over her coverage of anti-war rallies, according to reports.

Authorities searched Ponomarenko’s home on April 25, took testimony from her 16-year-old and  13-year-old daughters, and transferred the journalist to Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 in St. Petersburg on April 27, according to multiple news reports by SOTA. 

On July 15, SOTA reported that Ponomarenko was fined 15,000 rubles (US$245) for a September 2021 comment on TikTok that the authorities considered “humiliating” for police officers. 

Two days before, Sibir.Realii, the Siberia-focused project run by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, had reported that Ponomarenko was forcibly injected with an “unknown substance” while held at a psychiatric hospital and could not remember anything for three days.

On September 16, Ponomarenko said in a court hearing that her detention conditions led her to cut open her veins, her outlet reported. “The only person I can injure in a state of hysteria and depression is myself," Ponomarenko told the court. During that hearing, she said that she has been diagnosed with psychological disorder and suffers from claustrophobia. She also said that did not receive psychiatric care.

According to RusNews, Ponomarenko was placed in solitary confinement between September 6 and 13 for breaking a taped-up window in her cell.

On September 27, a court in Barnaul extended Ponomarenko’s detention until March 27, 2023, according to media reports

On November 14, the court moved Ponomarenko to house arrest, according to her outlet, which specified that she was “in good spirits” during the hearing. Ponomarenko is not allowed to leave her home, correspond, or access the internet, Chitov was quoted as telling RusNews after the hearing.

In October 2022, CPJ called the Russian Ministry of Interior, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office but did not receive any replies.