Russian anti-war protest journalist Marina Ovsyannikova faces criminal charges

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Marina Ovsyannikova, a former editor of the state-run Channel One network who denounced Moscow’s war on Ukraine during a live TV broadcast, faces criminal charges after Russia’s security services raided her home on Wednesday.

According to Dmitry Zakhvatov, a lawyer for human rights organization OVD-Info, who is assisting Ovsyannikova, Russian security forces kicked in the door to her house, without waiting for her legal representative to arrive. Zakhvatov said Ovsyannikova is being taken before the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, a powerful federal body that is comparable to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Later on Wednesday, Zakhvatov said that she faced a criminal investigation relating to charges of disseminating false information about the Russian army, under a new law adopted by the Kremlin after the war in Ukraine began. He added that the maximum punishment foreseen in the criminal code is a jail term of 10 years. The charges are related to a picket the former editor held near the Kremlin in mid-July, where she held a poster saying “Putin is a murderer. His soldiers are fascists.” According to her lawyer, she will stay in custody in a detention center until Thursday.

On Telegram, Ovsyannikova said that 10 officers from the Investigative Committee broke into her house at 6:00 a.m. while she was still asleep. “They scared my little daughter,” she said, before adding “Over 350 children who died in Ukraine, are they fakes … How many children have to die, before you stop?”

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Ovsyannikova came to international attention in March, when she crashed the set of Russia’s top evening newscast Vremya wearing a necklace in the colors of the Ukrainian and Russian flags, and brandishing an anti-war poster. She paid a fine of 30,000 rubles (at that time, around €250) in connection to her protest, but her lawyers indicated she could face further charges at a later point.

After being fined, Ovsyannikova fled Russia and was hired by Germany’s Die Welt newspaper (which is owned by POLITICO’s parent company Axel Springer). But she subsequently returned to Russia to fight a parental custody battle, she said on social media. She has continued to criticize the war.

Over the past two weeks, Russian courts have ordered Ovsyannikova to pay two additional fines for discrediting the country’s army in her social media posts. She was also briefly detained mid-July. At that time, her lawyer did not rule out the possibility of a criminal probe.

Since the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has clamped down on protests and criticism of the war. Increasing restrictions have forced Russian journalists to flee the country. Western reporters have also been banned from entering Russia.

Florian Eder contributed reporting.

This article has been updated.