Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’: Barnaul journalist Maria Ponomarenko is a political prisoner

27 May 2022

She has been remanded in custody on charges of disseminating ‘fake news’ about the Russian army in a Telegram post about the deaths of Mariupol residents

Source: Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’

The Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ in accordance with international criteria, considers the Barnaul journalist Maria Ponomarenko a political prisoner. A criminal investigation was opened with regard to a post she made about the deaths of civilians in Mariupol. Ponomarenko is being prosecuted for exercising her right to freedom of expression, as well as in order to intimidate all those in Russia who oppose the war against Ukraine.

We demand the immediate release of Maria Ponomarenko and an end to her criminal prosecution.

We stress that Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code, which is unlawful in nature, was created as a means to censor and repress critics of the authorities and must be rescinded. Any prosecutions under this article of the Criminal Code are unlawful and must be ended.

What are the charges against Maria Ponomarenko?

Maria Ponomarenko is a civil society activist and journalist from Barnaul. She worked for the online publication RusNews and was one of the administrators of the Telegram channel ‘No Censorship’ that had more than a thousand subscribers.

It was on this channel that, on 17 March 2022, a post was published that talked about a Russian air strike on the building of the theatre for the dramatic arts in Mariupol, Ukraine, and the numerous civilian casualties among those sheltering there. After its publication, a criminal investigation was launched against Ponomarenko under Article 207.3, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (disseminating ‘false news’ about the Russian army).

On 24 April Ponomarenko was arrested in St. Petersburg where she had gone on an editorial assignment to cover protests in the city.

On 27 April St Petersburg’s Oktyabrsky district court remanded Ponomarenko in custody. In court she stated she was one of the organisers of a public campaign to protect orphans in the Altai region, for which she had received threats, including from a local police officer who had written a negative character assessment about her. However, the court ruled Ponomarenko could put pressure on witnesses, one of whom was her minor daughter, and remanded the journalist in custody.

On 23 May Ponomarenko was transferred from St. Petersburg to Barnaul.

Why do we consider Maria Ponomarenko a political prisoner?

Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code on the dissemination of information known to be false about the actions of the Russian army contradicts the Russian Constitution, Russia’s international obligations and fundamental principles of law.

In particular, according to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.’ Restrictions on the exercise of these rights ‘shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’ Similar norms are enshrined in Article 29 of the Russian Constitution. 

The restrictions on freedom of expression established by Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code do not serve any of the aforementioned purposes and are a form of censorship.

Article 207.3 criminalises any statements about the use of the Russian armed forces and the activities of Russian government agencies abroad. In the course of an armed conflict, it is often not possible to establish the accuracy of information disseminated by various sources. It is even less possible to establish whether or not it is known that information is false. These defects determine the unlawful nature of Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.

The timing and context of the introduction of Article 207.3 into the Russian Criminal Code – after the beginning of large-scale Russian military aggression against Ukraine – allow us to assert that this article was created specifically as a means to prosecute critics of the Russian authorities. 

This also applies in full measure to the prosecution of Maria Ponomarenko, a well-known civil society activist in Altai region. Ponomarenko had previously faced threats from the authorities after she managed to get a criminal investigation opened into violations she had uncovered in the provision of housing for orphans in Altai region. Ponomarenko’s legal representatives believe her transfer to Barnaul places her in serious danger.

Aside from the unlawfulness  of Ponomarenko’s prosecution, it is impossible not to note the inappropriateness of the pre-trial restrictions imposed on her. The mother of two minor children was remanded in custody on the pretext that her daughter had previously been questioned in Barnaul in connection with the same case and, according to investigators and the court, should be prevented from communicating with her mother.

More information about the case and the position of the Human Rights Project are available on our Telegram channel.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

How can you help?

You can support political prisoners by making a donation to the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners via YooMoney.

Translated by Rights in Russia

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