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EU welcomes Russia dropping charges against reporter

June 11, 2019

The European Union on Tuesday welcomed Russia’s decision to drop drug charges against an investigative journalist as a “positive outcome”, but demanded a probe into reports he was beaten in prison.

Ivan Golunov, a reporter with the independent media outlet Meduza, was arrested last week on charges that supporters said were trumped up to punish him for his investigative work.

The case sparked outrage in Russia and abroad, with major Russian media outlets voicing support and a demonstration in support of Golunov was planned in Moscow on Wednesday after days of smaller protests.

“The decision to drop the charges of ‘illegal production or sale of drugs’ against investigative journalist Ivan Golunov is a positive outcome to this particular case,” a spokesperson for the European Commission said.

“His initial detention and subsequent house arrest, however, added to an already worrying trend with respect to media freedom in the Russian Federation. The arrest charges made against Mr Golunov mirrored other dubious, alleged drug cases against Russian human rights activists and journalists.”

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said that the 36-year-old Golunov would be freed from house arrest and pledged to seek permission to sack the head of a Moscow police department and another senior official in charge of drug control in the city.

Golunov said he was beaten while in detention and his lawyers insisted that drugs had been planted to frame him.

“Reports of police brutality towards Mr Golunov during his arrest and while in custody are also deeply worrying,” the EU spokesperson said.

“We expect a thorough and transparent investigation into this case.”

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

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

The Meduza website is based in EU member state Latvia to circumvent censorship, but some of its journalists live in Russia.

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