Published: Wed, June 12, 2019
Global Media | By Garry Long

Ivan Golunov, accused Russian reporter, to go free after outcry

Ivan Golunov, accused Russian reporter, to go free after outcry

The 36-year-old Golunov was stopped Thursday by police on a Moscow street and taken into custody, where his defense team said he was beaten and denied a lawyer for more than 12 hours.

Russian journalists critical of authorities have led a unsafe existence since the 1990s - sometimes threatened, physically attacked and even murdered for their work.

After fingerprint and DNA analysis, "the decision has been made to stop the criminal case against citizen Golunov and remove the charges against him because of the lack of proof of his involvement in the crime committed", interior minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said in a video statement.

When Golunov was formally charged Saturday with drug possession with intent to sell, it appeared that the police were preparing to lock up a journalist who had spotlighted official corruption.

Kolokoltsev said Golunov has been released from house arrest, and he intends to seek the dismissal of two senior police officials and to investigate others. He expressed confidence that prosecutors will look into possible violations of Golunov's rights, and dismissed suggestion that the police handling of the case undermines public trust in law enforcement agencies.

The criminal case against Golunov had several irregularities. He said the tests indicated that it is unlikely that he regularly handles drugs as police has suggested.

The abrupt turnaround by Russian authorities came amid mounting protests over Golunov's detention, which has been widely criticized by his supporters, including an exceptional show of solidarity by the country's journalists and even pro-Kremlin commentators.

On Sunday, state news channel Rossiya-24 broadcast a man it identified as a police official saying the images were from a separate investigation. Meduza Director General Galina Timchenko and Chief Editor Ivan Kolpakov said that Golunov's journalistic activities might be the true reason behind drug charges. We understand completely that this happened thanks to the efforts of hundreds and thousands of people.

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And opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who had condemned Golunov's treatment, wrote: 'Yipee!

Congratulations! This is just fantastic news.

Supporters had organised a march in Moscow for Wednesday to call for his freedom, with almost 24,000 people replying as attending or interested on Facebook.

As well as Russian media, Golunov has provoked outrage from global media and statements of concern from European Union and the United States.

The authorities had said the protesters did not have approval, and that their protest could threaten public safety.

The march presented the Kremlin with a quandary: either use force to break up the protest and risk provoking more anger, or stand aside and let the demonstration take place, which risked revealing weakness to the Kremlin's opponents.

The charges against Golunov inflamed opinion among urban professionals, a group that is in a minority nationwide, but which has outsize influence in Moscow.

In an unprecedented show of solidarity on Monday, the Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBC newspapers each published front page headlines: "I am/We are Ivan Golunov", accompanied by editorials calling for inquiries into the case.

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