Ivan Golunov: Drug dealing charge against journalist dropped

Ivan Golunov a journalist who worked for the independent website Meduza reacts in a cage in a court room in Moscow Russia

Golunov's case provoked increased media attention in Russian Federation, with many reporters from both state- and privately-owned outlets expressing solidarity with the investigative journo. Anchor Irada Zeynalova of pro-Kremlin channel NTV had said that if there were no drugs on the journalist then "those who created this insane situation must be punished", the BBC reported.

Russian authorities faced unprecedented pushback on Monday against the arrest of an investigative reporter on drugs charges, with independent as well as pro-Kremlin figures urging his release.

"The extremely odd behaviour of the police suggests that Ivan Golunov has been arrested on a trumped-up charge", Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, told Al Jazeera.

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev stunned the nation when he announced that drug dealing charges against Ivan Golunov have been dropped after police found "no proof of his part in a crime".

Protest against the detention of Ivan Golunov, a journalist of Medusa, outside the Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, Moscow.

"As TV channels continue to inundate viewers with propaganda, the climate has become very oppressive for those who question the new patriotic and neo-conservative discourse, or just try to maintain quality journalism", the RSF said in its 2019 summary for Russian Federation, describing the atmosphere for independent journalists as "stifling".

He added that he hopes the police will stop trying to frame innocent people, adding: "I hope it will not happen to anyone else in our country".

Judicial statistics indicate that the chances for criminal charges to be dropped or an acquittal once a person is in custody are extremely slim.

"When the authorities admit their mistakes, admit the mistakes of the law enforcement officials and correct them, that's very good because it shows that the government is reasonable", Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the influential Ekho Moskvy radio station, told the Interfax news agency. The journalist denied all the allegations, claiming that the evidence was planted by the police and the whole case was a set-up in retaliation for his investigative journalism. But it later said a medical report showed no evidence of his intoxication.

"We have put the pressure on the system and it worked this time", said Pavel Kanygin, investigative reporter at Novaya Gazeta.

A protester against Ivan Golunov's detention. They later retracted the statement, saying that the photos were taken elsewhere.

"This is only the beginning, and much work lies ahead to make sure that what happened is never repeated with anyone", Kolpakov, Meduza CEO Galina Timchenko, and other Golunov supporters said in a statement. He was transferred to house arrest on Saturday following a public outpouring of support.

His case set off alarm bells in Moscow's journalism circles, Bershidsky writes, including the fear that "anyone could be next in line".

The case sparked outrage in Russian Federation and overseas over what critics slammed as the impunity and corruption of law enforcement agencies.

More than one-third of all Russians behind bars are serving prison terms for drug trafficking, according to the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.

Golunov's release prompted several prominent officials, including close Putin ally Alexei Kudrin, to call for a review of how drug charges are used and abused.

Mr Kolokoltsev said police officers involved in detaining Mr Golunov, 36, were being suspended as an investigation was launched.

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