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June 7, 2019 - Updated on June 8, 2019

Russia: Well-known Moscow reporter arrested on dubious drug charge

Ivan Golunov / Facebook

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned about the suspicious behaviour of the police who arrested well-known investigative reporter Ivan Golunov on a drug trafficking charge in central Moscow yesterday, which suggests that the case against him has been fabricated.

For more than 12 hours after his arrest, the police refused to notify his lawyer or any of colleagues. His lawyer, Dmitry Dzhulai, reports that when he finally went to the police station after being notified, he saw that Golunov bore the marks of physical blows but the police refused to take him to see a doctor for a medical report on his condition.

The police claim that when they arrested Golunov, they found a bag containing drugs in his backpack and later found more drugs at his home. But they refused to take samples from Golunov’s fingernails and backpack to establish whether he had touched the alleged drugs.

“The extremely strange behaviour of the police suggests that Ivan Golunov has been arrested on a trumped-up charge,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Why would they otherwise deny him access to his lawyer and refuse to carry out decisive tests?”

Bihr added: “If fabricated evidence really has been used to arrest a journalist who is so well-known throughout Russia, this would mark a significant escalation in the harassment of the country’s independent media.”

One of the best known journalists at the leading independent news website Meduza, Golunov has been responsible for a great deal of sensitive reporting, including stories on luxury real estate assets owned by the family of Moscow’s deputy mayor and the alleged involvement of officials and organized crime in schemes to take control of the funeral service business.

Meduza, which is convinced of Golunov’s innocence, reports that he recently received threats in connection with a major story he was in the process of investigating.

Chechen journalist Zhalaudi Geriyev recently completed a three-year jail sentence on a trumped-up drug charge, while similar charges were brought against another journalist, Nikolai Yarst, in Sochi, shortly before the 2014 Winter Olympics. But none of Golunov’s colleagues recall any previous case of a trumped-up drug charge being brought against a Moscow journalist.

Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.