Brave Russian anti-war activist tells Putin his regime is close to collapse in speech from court cage before she is jailed for six years for ‘spreading fake news’ about Ukraine invasion
- Maria Ponomarenko, 44, was jailed for spreading so-called fake news
- The mother-of-two had criticised Russia’s attack on theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine
A Russian anti-war activist today told Vladimir Putin his regime is close to collapse in a speech from inside a cage before being sentenced to six years in prison by a court for criticising Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Maria Ponomarenko, 44, was jailed for spreading so-called fake news after she wrote about Russia bombing a theatre in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in a strike that killed around 600 civilians who had been sheltering there.
The mother-of-two had written on Telegram after the attack in March: ‘It is impossible to remain silent, knowing about the death of thousands of innocent people. Sane people are for peace’.
Despite this being the truth, Ponomarenko was jailed for six years in prison on Wednesday for criticising the targeting of civilians at the Donetsk Regional Theatre in March last year.
Russia had claimed Ukrainians had blown up the theatre – but Kyiv, its Western allies and witnesses said Moscow had dropped a bomb on the building.
Maria Ponomarenko, 44, (pictured) was jailed for spreading so-called fake news after she wrote about Russia bombing a theatre in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in a strike that killed around 600 civilians who had been sheltering there
As the verdict was read out, Ponomarenko taunted Putin, declaring: ‘No totalitarian regime has ever been as strong as before it collapses.’
She accused the despot of impoverishing Russia by throwing state money and resources at the war in a move that is ‘tearing apart’ the country.
Ponomarenko was jailed for six years, and barred from working as a journalist for five years on her release.
The verdict is the latest in a series of high-profile rulings under new legislation that critics say is designed to criminalise criticism of the military intervention.
In an emotional speech in court in Barnaul, Siberia, she said her right to free speech under the constitution had been flouted.
She blasted the corruption and crime of Putin’s war.
‘If I had committed a real crime, then it would have been possible to ask for leniency, but…I did not do so,’ she said.
‘In order to prove my innocence, it is enough to open the Constitution and read it.’
She mocked Putin for refusing to allow his war to be called a war: Russians are expected to refer to it as a ‘special military operation’.
Emergency management specialists and volunteers remove the debris of a theatre building destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 25, 2022
This handout file satellite image distributed by Maxar Technologies on March 29, 2022 shows a close up of the extensive damage to the Mariupol theater and nearby buildings in Mariupol
Ponomarenko asked: ‘What is happening in our country? If there is a war, call the war by its name — war. Then apply military censorship.’
She added that patriotism ‘is love for the motherland’ – and it should not be expressed in Nazi-like symbols of an illegal war.
‘It should not be expressed in encouraging crimes,’ she said. ‘Corruption is a crime. Attacking a neighbour is a crime…
‘The symbols V and Z should be wiped out, and those who put them on our [military] equipment should be sentenced.’
Putin’s war is ‘to spit on’ World War Two heroes, she continued in her defiant speech. ‘No totalitarian regime has ever been as strong as before it collapses…’
After the verdict was announced, she told RusNews the jail term was a ‘piece of bread from the master’s [Putin’s] table’.
Putin’s regime ‘are prepared to tear apart their own. [They doom] the elderly to poverty, orphans are sentenced because they have nowhere to live.
‘This is our biggest pain. Our children are not being treated [in hospitals] because they don’t care. The most important thing for them to devour.’
In detention, Ponomarenko ahead of her trial had been ordered to undergo psychiatric ‘evaluation’ in a secure facility.
Here she claims she was twice pinned down by male guards and injected with an unknown substance after which he remembered nothing for three days.
‘I asked for personal clothing, cutlery, sanitary pads and basic washing stuff,’ she said.
‘I was then forcibly injected with some unknown substance.
‘It was supposed to calm me down, and the result is I don’t remember three days out of my life – at all.’
She told publication RusNews: ‘Do you know how they do it? Three young men from the prison service you by the legs and hands, pushing you against a bed.
‘Then a female nurse carries out the injection. While this was happening, my female cellmate was kicked out of the cell.’
A Ukrainian serviceman drives a tank along a road outside the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine on February 14
Myagkaya Sila – or Soft Power – human rights group said Ponomarenko was the ‘latest victim of so-called ‘punitive psychiatry’, which is reviving in modern Russia to fight people who object to the regime.’
Such treatment was commonplace in Soviet times.
‘The most awful thing is that this practice can turn a healthy person into mentally ill,’ said Myagkaya Sila.
‘What happened to Maria in the clinic is full-scale torture.’
After the Kremlin ordered troops into Ukraine nearly a year ago, Russia introduced new legislation criminalising what authorities consider to be false or damaging information about the Russian army and the offensive.
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