BREAKING: Russia Drops Drug Charges Against Investigative Journalist Ivan Golunov, Who Was Beaten in Custody
Moscow–Russian authorities dropped all charges against Russian journalist Ivan Golunov on Tuesday, five days after he was arrested on drug charges June 6.
Golunov, a prominent investigative reporter from The Meduza Project, is known for his investigative work on local government corruption, real estate fraud and links between high-ranking government and law enforcement officials and Russia’s funeral industry. Golunov was on his way to meet a source when police stopped him last Thursday.
Authorities claimed that mephedrone, an illegal synthetic stimulant, was found in Golunov’s backpack and in his Moscow home. Golunov claimed the drugs were planted on him, and that the arrest was punishment for his investigative work.
While in custody, police beat Golunov and denied him a drug test and a phone call to his family or his lawyer.
Golunov’s friends, family and colleagues immediately spoke out, vouching for Golunov’s character and attesting to the fact that he never used drugs and that the case against him was a pressure tactic in response to Golunov’s latest investigative project.
In response to the public outcry, Moscow police released 10 photos of the alleged drug lab in Golunov’s apartment. Golunov’s family and friends, who are familiar with the space, were quick to point out that only one of those photos were actually of Gulanov’s home. The photos were deleted several hours later, with law enforcement admitting that they were taken in a different place.
Support for Gulanov’s release grew to unprecedented levels when large crowds began protesting outside the Moscow police headquarters. Dozens more media outlets, as well as individual journalists, politicians celebrities, joined in calling for Golunov’s release.
On June 8, supporters gathered at the courthouse as the police charged Golunov with attempted drug dealing, which carries a 10-20 year prison sentence in Russia. The court was asked to hold Golunov in custody pending investigation.
Later that same day, however, the judge ordered that Golunov would be moved to house arrest.
While the crowd outside the courthouse cheered, Golunov’s supporters still demanded that Golunov be fully released and that the circumstances surrounding Golunov’s arrest be investigated.
On Monday, independent Russian news outlets Kommersant, Vedomosti and RBC published the same front page, which read, “I am/We are Ivan Golunov.” All three papers sold out immediately.
On Tuesday, June 11 at 8:15 a.m., The Meduza Project released a statement announcing that Golunov is free.
“The case against Ivan Golunov is closed. This is the result of an unprecedented international solidarity campaign among both journalists and their allies,” the statement said. “The group of journalists we have gathered together in recent days will continue working, and now, they will be working together with Ivan himself. This is only the beginning. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us if we are to ensure that what happened here will never happen again to anybody.”
Several prominent journalists had also organized a rally on Wednesday, which is Russia Day, to demand his release. As of Tuesday, over 24,000 people had signed up to attend the mass demonstration according to the event’s Facebook page. Organizers still say the rally will go on, in the name of press freedom.