Russia (HRNW): Three of Russia’s leading newspapers have come out in support of a reporter charged with drug offences, in a case that has caused a huge public outcry. The front page headlines in Vedomosti, RBC, and Kommersant read “We are Ivan Golunov”, referring to the investigative journalist. Mr Golunov was charged over the weekend with trying to illegally sell drugs. His lawyer said the drugs were planted. The journalist was reportedly beaten up during his arrest last week. Mr Golunov, 36, is a freelance journalist, who has contributed to a number of media outlets including the Latvia-based news site Meduza. His arrest led to heated discussions among social media users in Russia, with many accusing the authorities of trying to stifle freedom of press.
Russian authorities have so far not commented on the case. A Moscow court on Sunday ordered that Mr Golunov be placed under house arrest rather than remanded in custody, which is standard procedure in drug-related cases in Russia. Journalists in Russia have in recent years often been harassed or attacked for their work. Many opposition figures and human rights activists in Russia have been detained on apparently fabricated drugs charges, which are widely seen as an attempt to quash political dissent. Much of Russia’s media is controlled by the state and Russia is ranked 83rd out of 100 countries for press freedom by Freedom House. The three business dailies on Monday published a joint statement, openly questioning the legality of Mr Golunov’s arrest.
“We do not consider convincing the evidence presented by investigators into the guilt of Ivan Golunov,” the statement said. “We are not ruling out that the detention and the subsequent arrest of Mr Golunov are connected to his professional activities.” The newspapers also demanded a thorough investigation into how police acted during the arrest. The response to the front pages by pro-Kremlin media was muddled. They first published police photos of what was said to be drug paraphernalia in Mr Golunov’s flat, but later withdrew the pictures, admitting they were from a different police investigation. Rossiya 24, a state TV channel, showed an official medical note supposedly confirming that Mr Golunov was intoxicated when arrested. In fact, the note said the opposite, and the report was later amended. RIA FAN, a publication believed to be linked to the St Petersburg Internet Research Agency, also known as the “troll factory”, quoted RBC co-chief Yelizaveta Golikova as saying that Mr Golunov had to be “held responsible by law”.
Ms Golikova denied saying anything of the kind and threatened to sue RIA FAN. He had been on his way to meet another journalist last Thursday when he was stopped and searched by officers. Police said they found the synthetic drug mephedrone in his rucksack, and that a later search of his flat turned up more drugs and some scales – indicating that he was involved in dealing. The journalist was later charged with attempting illegally to produce, sell or pass on drugs. Police released photos which they said showed drug paraphernalia in Mr Golunov’s flat, but the images were later withdrawn. Police then admitted that “most of the published photos had not been taken at Mr Golunov’s flat after all, but were related to another criminal investigation that might be linked to his detention”. Meduza said in a statement, published by the Reuters news agency, that Mr Golunov had received threats in recent months over a story he was working on.
“We are convinced that Ivan Golunov is innocent,” the statement said. “Moreover, we have grounds to believe that Golunov is being persecuted because of his journalistic activity.” A medical examination at hospital showed that Mr Golunov had an abrasion on his back and bruising around one eye but no serious injuries that required a stay in hospital, Dr Alexander Myasnikov told Russian media over the weekend. None of his ribs were broken, Dr Myasnikov said, following earlier claims that the journalist had suffered a fracture. Meduza said Mr Golunov was beaten up by officers both during his arrest and later at a police station. He was, the news site said, only able to contact a friend after 14 hours. In the first video of Mr Golunov since his arrest, posted by the Russian news site Breaking Mash, he can be seen lifting up his shirt to reveal marks on his back.