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Court hearing for Russian journalist on drug charges

June 8, 2019

A Russian court was set to rule Saturday whether to extend the detention of an investigative journalist for alleged drugs offences that supporters say are a trumped-up punishment for his reporting.

Ivan Golunov, a reporter for Meduza independent news website, was held on Thursday in possession of five packages of mephedrone, a designer drug, Moscow police said.

Police later added that they found cocaine in Golunov’s flat and he was being investigated for drug production and dealing, although he has not been charged.

The 36-year-old has investigated high-level corruption among Moscow officials and Meduza says it believes the case is linked to his work.

Saturday’s court hearing could lead to a ruling to hold him in prison, under house arrest or set him free.

Outside the court, several journalists held up placards with slogans including “I am the journalist Ivan Golunov. Arrest me too”.

Police detained three people, an AFP video journalist saw.

On Friday dozens of prominent journalists protested outside Moscow police headquarters and were briefly detained, even though individual pickets are legal in Russia.

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

“”We have reasons to believe that Golunov is being persecuted for his journalistic work,” Meduza general director Galina Timchenko and editor-in-chief Ivan Kolpakov said in a statement.

The respected site is based in EU member Latvia to avoid Russian censorship, but some journalists including Golunov live in Russia.

His lawyer Dmitry Dzhulai told AFP it appeared the drugs had been planted.

“Everything indicates that the authorities are planting drugs on their targets to shut them up with a jail sentence,” said Natalia Zvyagina, director of Amnesty International’s branch in Russia.

Russia’s presidential rights council, which advises Vladimir Putin, issued a statement late Friday after one of its members, Yeva Merkacheva visited Golunov in detention.

“He said he hadn’t slept for 24 hours and so he feels bad. He also hasn’t eaten,” Merkacheva was quoted as saying

– ‘Escalation of persecution’ –

She said Golunov showed her scratches on his back that he said were from police dragging him, and said he was twice punched in the head and police also stood on his chest.

The case set off a wave of support from Russian journalists and rights groups who see the case as an example of persecution of independent reporters, with many saying Golunov was not known to take drugs.

Reporters Without Borders warned his arrest could mark “a significant escalation in the persecution” of independent journalists in Russia.

While journalists at Russia’s dwindling number of independent media resources frequently face criminal probes, physical attacks and official pressure, such drugs accusations are not common.

video-am/bp

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.