Write to Russia: Maria Ponomarenko – imprisoned for sharing information about the Russian attack on the Mariupol theatre

On 15 February 2023 Maria Ponomarenko, a civil society activist and journalist from Barnaul, was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment (and banned for five-years from engaging in her profession of journalism on her release). She had been remanded in custody on 27 April 2022 by a district court in St. Petersburg where she had gone on an editorial assignment to cover protests in the city. Memorial has recognised Ponomarenko as a political prisoner. Amnesty International has recognised her as a prisoner of conscience.

Ponomarenko worked for the online publication RusNews and was one of the administrators of the Telegram channel ‘No Censorship.’ It was on this channel that, on 17 March 2022, a post was published describing a Russian air strike on the Mariupol dramatic arts theatre in Ukraine, and the numerous civilian casualties among those sheltering there. On that basis, a criminal investigation was launched against Ponomarenko for disseminating ‘fake news’ about the Russian army (Article 207.3, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code). On 23 May Ponomarenko was transferred from St. Petersburg to Barnaul. On 15 February a court in Barnaul sentenced her to six years’ imprisonment.

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.

Memorial, 27 May 2022

Amnesty International has reported that in detention before her trial Maria Ponomarenko’s mental health suffered and she was transferred to a psychiatric hospital for an examination where she was was ‘forcibly injected with unknown drugs and treated brutally.’ After her imprisonment, in October 2023 ‘after severe ill-treatment and unfair punishments’ she staged a hunger strike after which she was again subjected to further forcible psychiatric treatment.

In December 2023 new charges were brought against Maria Ponomarenko of ‘using force not dangerous to health against a prison officer’ (under Article 321, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code).

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.

Memorial, 27 May 2022

Maria Ponomarenko is a journalist and activist from Barnaul in Western Siberia. On 23 April 2022, she was detained for sharing a Telegram post about the bombing of the Drama Theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine. It contained a video from the theatre made before the attack and a short comment condemning civilian deaths. In detention, her mental health deteriorated. As part of the investigation, she was transferred to a psychiatric hospital for an examination. She was forcibly injected with unknown drugs and treated brutally. On 15 February 2023, Maria was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and a five-year ban on engaging in journalism on her release. She was initially sent to a penal colony 900km from her home town, meaning it was impossible for her to see her daughters . After severe ill-treatment and unfair punishments, she staged a hunger strike in October 2023. She was dragged by guards, barefoot, to a disciplinary hearing. Afterwards, she was subjected to further forcible psychiatric treatment. Maria has spoken about the importance of messages in detention. She says, “it’s as if wings grow from them, they give a sense of freedom”. She faces a second sentence and possibly five more years in prison. Your solidarity can bring her hope.

Amnesty International

You can also write to Maria Ponomarenko via Amnesty International’s website here.

Write to Russia – Write to Maria Ponomarenko

The Russian penal system does not allow any messages to prisoners that are written in foreign languages, but Write to Russia is here to help you. To write to Maria Ponomarenko to show your support for her, please send your letter as an email to us at: letters-to-prisoners@protonmail.com. We shall translate the letter into Russian for you and, depending on your request, either mail the translated letter on your behalf to Maria or return the letter to you by email for posting in an envelope with an address written in Russian. If we send the letter on your behalf, we ask that you compensate us for the cost of postage from the UK (currently £2.20 – $2.73; €2.52). To learn more about our letter writing project, click here: Write to Russia.

The address to write to Maria Ponomarenko is:

656021, Алтайский край, г. Барнаул, Канатный проезд, д. 81, ФКУ СИЗО-1 УФСИН России по Алтайскому краю, Пономаренко Марии Николаевне, 1978 г. р.

If you would like to write to another person unjustly deprived of liberty in Russia, the project Write to Russia has so far highlighted the following cases:

  1. Sasha (Aleksandra) Skochilenko – imprisoned for peaceful anti-war protest – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-2/
  2. Mikhail Zhilin – imprisoned for refusing to fight against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-3/
  3. Aleksei Arbuzenko – imprisoned for protesting the war against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-4/
  4. Aleksei Navalny – imprisoned for peaceful participation in electoral politics – died in custody – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-5/
  5. Evgeny Zinich- imprisoned for his faith – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-6/
  6. Alsu Kurmasheva – held on remand for her work as a journalist – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-7/
  7. Bakhrom Khamroev – imprisoned for his political and religious beliefs and human rights work – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-8
  8. Andrei Kapatsyna – imprisoned for his religious beliefs and refusing to fight in Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-9
  9. Gregory Vinter – imprisoned for speaking out about the killings in Bucha and Irpen – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-10
  10. Aleksei Gorinov – imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-11/
  11. Vladimir Kara-Murza – imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-12/
  12. Darya Poliudova – imprisoned for exercising her right to freedom of expression – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-13/
  13. Ilya Yashin – imprisoned for speaking out about Russian war crimes in Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-14/
  14. Appaz Kurtamet – imprisoned on fabricated charges of ‘financing an illegal armed group’ by a Russian-controlled court in occupied Crimea – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-15/
  15. Vyacheslav Malakhov – remanded in custody for criticising Putin for launching the war against Ukraine – https://www.rightsinrussia.org/write-to-russia-16/

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