Published: Thu, June 13, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Russian journalist freed after worldwide outcry over drug charges

Russian journalist freed after worldwide outcry over drug charges

Russian journalist Ivan Golunov, released on Tuesday from police custody, said he would continue his anti-corruption reporting.

Amnesty International said the arrest of Golunov - who is known for his reporting on issues such as the loan shark business in Russian Federation - followed a "depressingly familiar pattern".

In a surprising turnaround, Russia's police chief on Tuesday dropped all charges against a prominent investigative reporter whose detention sparked public outrage and promised to go after the police officers who tried to frame the journalist as a drug-dealer.

But the Golunov episode shows that independent media - now mainly represented by online news outlets such as Meduza - remains a powerful force.

Mr Golunov had been placed on house arrest while he awaited trial.

But Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev surprised the nation when he announced that all charges against Golunov were dropped after police found "no proof of his part in a crime".

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.

Prominent Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, cries as he leaves a Investigative Committee building in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

Meduza Editor Ivan Kolpakov said Golunov may have been targeted because of an unpublished article. It's an inspiring and motivating example of what can achieved by simple solidarity with someone in trouble.

The journalist denied the allegations and said the evidence was planted by the police in retaliation for his investigative journalism about local authorities.The case triggered widespread outrage in Russian Federation, with leading media outlets and public figures demanding a swift probe into suspected police corruption.

Golunov's Meduza colleague Ilya Zhegulev told AFP: "An unbelievable event has happened". "Am I sleeping? Did this really happen?"

On Sunday, he was released from jail and put under house arrest following a public outpouring of support, including from high-profile journalists for state-owned media.

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The Investigative Committee, Russia's equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also announced it would examine the circumstances around Golunov's arrest.

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

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

Before the police backed down, almost 25,000 people had signed up to a Facebook page expressing their intention to take part in a protest march on Wednesday in solidarity with Golunov.

Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, hailed the "historic mobilisation of the Russian civil society".

"We are happy that the authorities has listened to the oldsters".

Following his arrest, three leading Russian newspapers - Vedomosti, Kommersant, and RBK - publishing identical front pages that questioned the motives behind his detention.

Even some staunchly pro-Kremlin television journalists expressed support for the independent reporter.

The circumstances of the journalist's arrest have alarmed the media community.

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

During his two decades in power, Putin has silenced most of his critics and sought to muzzle the media.

The few opposition and independent media that still operate in Russian Federation are under huge pressure, Kremlin critics say.

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