9 Jun 2019

'Persecuted' Russian journalist arrested over drugs charges

8:54 am on 9 June 2019

A Russian investigative journalist, Ivan Golunov, has been arrested in the capital Moscow and charged with trying to illegally sell drugs.

Ivan Golunov.

Ivan Golunov. Photo: AFP

He was placed under house arrest after a court hearing. Earlier, he was given a medical examination amid reports he had been injured during the arrest.

The reporter for Latvia-based news site Meduza was detained on Thursday.

His lawyer says drugs were planted on him, an accusation the Russian authorities deny.

Meduza said Mr Golunov, 36, was being "being persecuted because of his journalistic activity".

What do we know about his arrest?

The court rejected a request by investigators to keep him in custody.

The reporter had been on his way to meet another journalist on Thursday when he was stopped and searched by officers.

They say 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 officially charged on Saturday morning 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Police released photos which they said showed drug paraphernalia in Mr Golunov's flat, but these were later withdrawn.

Meduza said in a statement 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 reads, according to Reuters news agency. "Moreover, we have grounds to believe that Golunov is being persecuted because of his journalistic activity."

What is being reported about his condition?

A medical examination at Moscow's Hospital Number 71 showed that he 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.

None of his ribs were broken, he added, after earlier claims that he had suffered a fracture.

Meduza says he was beaten up by officers both during his arrest and later at a police station. He was, the news site says, 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 lifts up his shirt to reveal marks on his back.

Mr Golunov said he had been involved in "scuffles" with police, and showed bruises.

His lawyer, Dmitry Julay, told reporters that the journalist had been denied food and sleep for more than 24 hours.

Who is Ivan Golunov?

The journalist has repeatedly exposed corruption among Moscow's high-profile businesspeople and its political elite, as well as fraudulent financial schemes in the city.

Journalists in Russia have often been harassed or attacked in recent years 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.

"We will find out by whose will Vanya [Ivan] is being pursued, and we will make this information public," Meduza's director Galina Timchenko and editor Ivan Kolpakov said.

"We will protect our journalist by all available means."

The journalist's arrest sparked protests in Moscow and St Petersburg, and more than a dozen people - mostly fellow journalists - were reportedly detained and later released.

On Saturday, police detained several people trying to protest about the arrest outside Nikulinsky Court, with one placard condemning the case against the reporter as a "fabrication".

Mr Golunov's mother, Svetlana Golunova, told Reuters the arrest was "not even a farce, it is something unbelievable", and she expected "only victory".