A Russian court has fined Marina Ovsyannikova 30,000 roubles (£215) for violating protest laws after she broke onto a live news broadcast on Channel One in an extraordinary demonstration against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The fine was a relatively light sentence for an act of protest that shocked Russian television viewers and earned plaudits from western leaders. Emmanuel Macron of France even offered her consular “protection” and said he would raise her case with Vladimir Putin.
In a legal twist, Ovsyannikova was fined not for breaking onto the Channel One set but for a video statement she made before the protest in which she said she was “ashamed” of having worked at Channel One and spreading “Kremlin propaganda”.
“These were indeed some of the hardest days of my life,” she told reporters following the short hearing. “I spent two days without sleep. I was questioned for more than 14 hours. They didn’t allow me to reach my family or give me any legal aid. I was in a fairly difficult position.” She also said she wasn’t surprised at her release because she had two children.
Friends and supporters feared the worst after Ovsyannikova disappeared into police custody for nearly 24 hours after her arrest, suspecting that prosecutors may be preparing serious criminal charges against her. Russian state media also reported that the powerful investigative committee had opened a case against her.
Lawyers spent much of the night scouring local police precincts to find her. She was detained on Tuesday evening after running on to the set of the evening news with a poster that read: “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.”
She finally reappeared on Tuesday evening in a Moscow courtroom. In a photograph alongside a lawyer, she appeared unharmed and was wearing the same outfit and necklace in the colours of the Ukrainian flag as a day earlier.
The Kremlin had suggested that Ovsyannikova had violated laws on hooliganism that can carry a sentence of years in prison. Lawyers said it was still possible that prosecutors would press tougher charges against Ovsyannikova, but that it was less likely following Tuesday’s hearing.
“There are still risks that a criminal case will be opened against Ovsyannikova, but the chances of that have sharply decreased after the fine that she received today,” said Pavel Chikov, the head of Agora International Human Rights Group. “She has been fined not for her performance, but for her video message in which she urged people to protest.”
“No case has been opened yet against her performance, and the prosecutor’s office might still decide to do so,” he continued. “But, the fact that she has already received a quick punishment indicates that a political decision has been made not to persecute her further.”
Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst and founder of R Politik, said that there were probably differing views among Kremlin advisers about how to deal with Ovsyannikova’s case. While some may have lobbied for a tough response, others could have feared a backlash if the mother of two was treated too harshly.
“Nobody was ready for something like this ahead of time,” she said. “And the Kremlin wouldn’t have a ready template for how to react.”
Several prominent journalists have reportedly left their positions at state media since Ovsyannikova’s protest.
“I’m interested by the amount of discontent inside of the system,” said Stanovaya. “Either right now this wave comes to nothing. Or we can see similar protests more and more often – these vocal, desperate acts where people make similar gestures.”