12 Jun 2019

Charges dropped against Russian reporter after outcry

6:48 am on 12 June 2019

Russian police have abruptly dropped drugs charges against journalist Ivan Golunov, known for exposing corruption among Moscow city officials.

Russian investigative journalist for Meduza website Ivan Golunov waits in a court room, in Moscow's Nikulinsky Court, Russia.

Ivan Golunov sits inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a Moscow court. Photo: AFP

It is a rare U-turn by authorities in the face of anger Mr Golunov's supporters, who alleged he was framed for his reporting and who threatened to stage a mass protest in Moscow.

The 36-year-old journalist was detained by police last week and accused of serious drug offences, which he flatly denied.

Russian journalists critical of authorities have led a dangerous existence since the 1990s - sometimes threatened, physically attacked, and even murdered for their work.

But the crude way supporters said Mr Golunov was set up and detained triggered an unusual show of media unity and an uncharacteristically swift response from authorities nervous about social unrest at a time when President Vladimir Putin already faces disquiet over living standards.

Mr Golunov said he would continue his anti-corruption reporting.

He was cheered by several hundred reporters and onlookers outside a police building.

He choked back tears as he said he hoped a similar drug-related case would not happen to anyone.

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said in a statement on Tuesday that the criminal case against Mr Golunov was being dropped due to a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.

Some police officers involved in the case were being temporarily removed from duty pending an investigation, he said, adding that he planned to ask Putin to dismiss other more senior police personnel.

"I believe that the rights of every citizen, regardless of his profession, must be protected," Mr Kolokoltsev said.

The climb-down prompted joy from Mr Golunov's supporters, including Galina Timchenko, general director of online news portal Meduza where Golunov works.

"I am happy, I'm crying. We understand perfectly that this happened thanks to the efforts of hundreds and thousands of people. Huge gratitude to all of them," he told the Interfax news agency.

- Reuters

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