Russia drops case against journalist after public outcry

Leading Russian newspapers supported Ivan Golunov, who was accused of drugs offences

Ivan Golunov: a 36-year-old journalist known for exposing corruption among Moscow city officials was released after public outcry. Photograph: Evgeny Feldman/meduza.io via AP

Ivan Golunov: a 36-year-old journalist known for exposing corruption among Moscow city officials was released after public outcry. Photograph: Evgeny Feldman/meduza.io via AP

 

Russia dropped all charges on Tuesday against an investigative journalist accused of drug dealing after a public outcry over what appears to have been a highly spurious case.

Interior minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said the decision had been taken because of a lack of evidence and that the journalist, Ivan Golunov, would be released from house arrest by the end of the day.

As a result of “biological, criminal, fingerprinting and genetic tests” a decision had been taken to close the criminal investigation of Mr Golunov, he said.

The unexpected move came after a massive display of support by Russian journalists for their colleague, who is renowned for his investigative reports exposing corruption in Moscow city government and law enforcement agencies.

Mr Golunov, a special correspondent for the Latvia-based Meduza internet newspaper, was arrested late last week and charged with possessing and planning to distribute illegal narcotics. He said police had planted the drugs and the charges had been fabricated to punish him for recent work about the murky underworld of the Moscow funeral services.

Russian journalists rallied to support Mr Golunov, staging round the clock protests outside the interior ministry in Moscow and waging a massive online campaign demanding his release. Almost 25,000 people signalled intent on Facebook to join a march through Moscow on Thursday to show solidarity for the journalist.

Police accusations that Mr Golunov was a drug dealer appeared flimsy from the start and the handling of the case – which was closely followed by independent Russian media – was highly irregular. Shortly after his arrest, the interior ministry posted photographs on its website depicting what it said was a drug laboratory found at Mr Golunov’s Moscow flat. The pictures were deleted after a police officer admitted they had been taken in another location and said they had been published by mistake.

Backed down

Mr Kolokoltsev said he had asked Russian president Vladimir Putin to dismiss two senior officials involved in the case: Maj Gen Andrei Puchkov, the head of Moscow’s western administrative district police force, and Maj Gen Yuri Devyatkin, the head of the drugs control directorate.

Materials relating to the case had been sent to Russian investigative committee, the main federal investigating authority in Russia, to assess whether police officers who arrested Mr Golunov had acted legally. “I believe that the rights of every citizen regardless of his position should be protected,” Mr Kolokoltsev said.

Signs that the Kremlin was preparing to back down in the case came early on Tuesday when Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament and a long time Putin ally, said the handling of the Golunov case raised questions about the “trustworthiness” of law enforcement agencies. “Either this is unprofessionalism or it is bungling or it is a provocation. I don’t even know how to describe it,” she said.

However, Mr Putin’s spokesman denied that the Kremlin was planning to drop the charges in light of the president’s annual question-and-answer telephone conference next week. Mr Putin would answer questions about Mr Golunov’s case if they were “relevant”, he said.

A large crowd of jubilant journalists waited to greet Mr Golunov when he was released from house arrest on Tuesday evening. Galina Timchenko, the chief executive of Meduza, said she was weeping from joy. “We understand perfectly well that this has happened thanks to the efforts of hundreds and thousands of people,” she told the Interfax news agency. “A huge thank you to you all.”