Russian journalist charged with drugs offence as supporters decry case

Telegram från AFP / Omni
08 juni 2019, 13.20

Russian police on Saturday charged an investigative journalist with attempting to deal in a "large amount" of illegal drugs as supporters said his case was trumped-up to punish him for his reporting.

Ivan Golunov, a reporter for Meduza, a respected independent news site, has been charged with attempted dealing in designer drug mephedrone and cocaine, his lawyer Pavel Chikov wrote on Telegram, posting the police document.

Golunov's detention by Moscow police on Thursday prompted widespread outrage from and supporters and dozens of journalists protested outside the police headquarters.

Police said they found drugs in his rucksack and in his flat, but supporters suggested they were planted on him and his lawyers said he was beaten while in detention.

Chikov said paramedics wanted to hospitalise Golunov after he collapsed at a police station on Saturday afternoon ahead of a planned court hearing on whether he will be held in custody.

He wrote on Telegram that medics suspected Golunov had broken ribs, bruising and concussion and wanted to take him for hospital treatment but were facing "pressure from police chiefs" not to do so.

Golunov earlier told a representative of Russia's presidential rights council, which advises Vladimir Putin, that he had been punched in the head and police had sat on his chest.

The 36-year-old has investigated high-level corruption among Moscow officials and Meduza said he had received a number of death threats and it believes he is being persecuted for his journalistic work.

Outside the court building, several journalists held up placards with slogans including "I am the journalist Ivan Golunov. Arrest me too."

Police detained three people, an AFP video journalist saw.

Meduza general director Galina Timchenko told journalists outside court that Golunov had received death threats over his reporting.

"Ivan received threats. Two months ago they became almost daily," she said, adding that she had failed to persuade Golunov to contact police.

"They said 'we'll bury you forever'," she said.

Golunov has investigated everything from Russia's shady funeral industry to corruption in Moscow city hall.

"We have reasons to believe that Golunov is being persecuted for his journalistic work," Meduza said in an earlier statement.

The respected site is based in EU member Latvia to avoid Russian censorship, but some journalists including Golunov live in Russia.

One of his lawyers, Dmitry Dzhulai, told AFP it appeared the drugs had been planted on Golunov.

"Everything indicates that the authorities are planting drugs on their targets to shut them up with a jail sentence," said Natalia Zvyagina, director of Amnesty International's branch in Russia.

A presidential rights council member who visited Golunov in detention on Friday, Yeva Merkacheva, said in a statement that he told her "he hadn't slept for 24 hours and so he feels bad. He also hasn't eaten."

She said Golunov showed her scratches on his back that he said were from police dragging him, and said he was twice punched in the head and police also stood on his chest.

Russian journalists and rights groups see the case as an example of persecution of independent reporters, with many saying Golunov was not known to take drugs.

On Friday, dozens of journalists protested against Golunov's detention outside Moscow police headquarters and were briefly detained.

Reporters Without Borders warned his arrest could mark "a significant escalation in the persecution" of independent journalists in Russia.

While journalists at Russia's dwindling number of independent media resources frequently face criminal probes, physical attacks and official pressure, such drugs accusations are not common.