Thu, Jun 13, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Russian journalist walks free as drug charges dropped


Investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, center, leaves a Russian Investigative Committee building in Moscow on Tuesday after his release.

Photo: AP

A Russian investigative journalist late on Tuesday walked free after authorities in Moscow dropped drug charges against him in a rare climbdown following a public outcry.

Ivan Golunov, a reporter with independent media outlet Meduza, walked out of the gates of a Moscow police building to cheers from waiting journalist and wept as he thanked supporters.

“This all happened so quickly and thank you for that, that you supported me. I think it somehow influenced the course of events,” Golunov said.

He added that he hopes his case would change police practices and “such situations will not happen again to anyone in this country.”

The journalist vowed to continue his investigative reporting for Meduza, which is based in Latvia to allow it to work more freely.

The 36-year-old was detained last week on charges that supporters said were trumped up to punish him for his investigative work.

The case sparked outrage in Russia and abroad over what critics called the impunity and corruption of law enforcement agencies.

In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Kolokoltsev said that Golunov was to be released from house arrest and charges against him lifted.

Kolokoltsev also said he would ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to sack the head of a Moscow Police Department and another senior official in charge of drug control in the capital.

The EU welcomed the news, with a European Commission spokesperson calling it a “positive outcome,” but demanding a probe into reports that police beat Golunov in detention.

Journalists and activists reacted with joy.

“An unbelievable event has happened,” Meduza senior correspondent Ilya Zhegulev said. “Even the most optimistic didn’t believe this would happen, and happen so quickly.”

Golunov had been charged with attempting to deal a “large amount” of drugs and was placed under house arrest, facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

His lawyers alleged that drugs had been planted on him to justify his arrest.

Moscow police admitted that photographs published on its Web site showing “drug paraphernalia” found at the crime scene were not taken at Golunov’s apartment.

Golunov’s fingerprints were not found on any of the items police said they seized, Golunov’s lawyer Sergei Badamshin said.

The officers who arrested Golunov have been suspended pending an investigation, Kolokoltsev said.

“I believe that irrespective of any citizen’s professional activities his rights should always be protected,” he added.

After Golunov’s arrest, hundreds protested outside a court and the Moscow police headquarters.

Supporters had organized a march to happen in Moscow yesterday to press for his freedom, but Golunov as he walked free said that he would prefer supporters spend time with “loved ones and family.”

Reporters Without Borders hailed what it called the “historic mobilization of the Russian civil society.”

“Now those who tried to set him up must be judged,” it wrote on Twitter.

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