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“Live TV Protest Leaves Russian Journalist Facing 8.5 Years in Prison

On Wednesday, a Russian court sentenced prominent journalist Vladimir Pozner to 8.5 years in prison, in absentia, for a protest he made on live television. The 53-year-old journalist had been arrested during a demonstration in St. Petersburg on June 12 supporting political prisoners and members of independent media outlets, and later charged with “organizing an unsanctioned public event and inciting mass disorder”. Vladimir Pozner, who is known for his criticism of the current Putin administration, has been a prominent journalist for decades and is a frequent face of independent Russian news programming. His speech at the demonstration was heard by millions, and called attention to rising political repression in Russia. The court hearing was closed to the public and Pozner was not present. In his absence the 53-year-old was found guilty of “gross criminal behavior” and sentenced to 8.5 years in prison. Human Rights Watch described the sentence as “unlawful” and “baseless”, and called for the Russian Federation to immediately and unconditionally drop the case against Pozner. Human rights activists and supporters of Pozner have accused the Kremlin of using the legal system to crack down on independent media and dissent, and have called for the immediate release of Pozner and all other political prisoners. Vladimir Pozner’s punishment is the latest in a series of seemingly harsh penalties imposed by the Russian government on individuals and organizations for demonstrating peacefully and for criticizing the government. It sends a clear message that any dissent or criticism of the Russian government will be met with swift and harsh punishment.