Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Russians register outrage over arrest of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov

Reporter known for exposing corruption among Moscow's ruling elite slapped with drug charges

Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov sits inside the defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on June 8, 2019. AFP
Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov sits inside the defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on June 8, 2019. AFP

Dozens of Russians took to the streets in Moscow and leading news publications made a rare show of protest after the arrest of Ivan Golunov, one of the country’s most respected investigative journalists, in a scandal that is galvanising the country’s cultural elite.

A long line of demonstrators wound its way past the Interior Ministry’s headquarters in the centre of the capital on Sunday evening as Muscovites took turns to hold placards voicing support for Golunov, who has been charged with drug possession.

Although Russia’s laws on demonstrations limit unsanctioned protests to just one person, a group of journalists and opposition figures have planned a march on Wednesday through the centre of Moscow, winding past the FSB headquarters, to protest against what they say are charges designed to silence the reporter. A petition calling for his release has so far received almost 150,000 signatures.

Writing in the Vedomosti business newspaper on Monday, columnists Maria Zheleznova and Pavel Aptekar said: “It should be obvious to even those with no interest in such journalism that the ease with which the authorities break the law and the impunity of the perpetrators make each of us a potential victim of such abuses.”

Leading Russian newspapers, from left, RBK, Kommersant and Vedomosti published the same front page on June 10, 2019 in support of detained journalist Ivan Golunov. Reuters
Leading Russian newspapers, from left, RBK, Kommersant and Vedomosti published the same front page on June 10, 2019 in support of detained journalist Ivan Golunov. Reuters

The Kremlin on Monday morning said the case raised many questions and that it would be closely monitoring the proceedings. "We are closely following how this case unfolds and all its nuances," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Golunov, who gained a reputation for his corruption investigations for the Meduza news website based in Latvia, was detained on Friday for drug possession. His lawyers claim he was beaten and refused medical treatment in custody because he would not sign a police report without legal presentation present.

The veteran reporter, who says the drugs were planted by the police, was formally charged on Saturday and faces up to 20 years behind bars. He was released to house arrest on Saturday for two months while the investigation continues.

His allies pointed to the fact that Golunov does not drink as evidence that the charges may have been used to silence him. On Sunday, the head of Russia’s Health Ministry offered what may be further evidence of his innocence on state-run television by saying that lab tests found no evidence that the journalist had used drugs.

Golunov’s arrest has spawned an unprecedented show of solidarity among Russia’s embattled press. On Monday morning, three of the country’s top newspapers published identical front pages with the words, “I am / we are Ivan Golunov.”

Editors at Kommersant, RBK and Vedomosti newspapers also published a joint statement demanding “a detailed investigation into the actions of the police who detained Ivan Golunov to see whether these actions were legal" and that the details of this review be reported to the media.

A number of high-profile cultural and political figures have spoken out against the journalist’s detention including reality television personality and former presidential candidate, Ksenia Sobchak and rapper Oxxxymiron.

News of Golunov’s arrest has also raised eyebrows abroad. Pickets were held in Poland and Stockholm, and the UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said he was worried by the arrest.

“Very concerned by arrest of Russian investigative journalist, Ivan Golunov," Mr Hunt wrote on Twitter. "Journalists must be free to hold power to account without fear of retribution.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom advocacy group, called on the Russian authorities to release Golunov and investigate his treatment in police custody.

"Russia has a long history of politically motivated charges against independent reporters. Investigative journalism is treated as a crime where it ought to be viewed as a public service," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia programme co-ordinator Gulnoza Said.

Russia, which ranks 149 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, has seen media freedoms become increasingly restricted. Last month, the entire political desk of the Kommersant walked out after two reporters were fired for reporting on personnel changes in Russia’s upper house of parliament.

Updated: June 10, 2019 06:52 PM

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