Published: Fri, June 14, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Russian journalist freed after worldwide outcry over drug charges

Russian journalist freed after worldwide outcry over drug charges

Investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was released from house arrest after an unprecedented show of solidarity by Russian media outlets and some of Russia's best-known celebrities. In his work, Golunov has exposed corruption cases involving the mayor and the vice-mayor of Moscow, as well as numerous other figures close to Putin.

"The decision has been made to end the criminal prosecution of Ivan Golunov because of the lack of evidence of his involvement in a crime", Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said Tuesday in an unusual televised statement. He was transferred to house arrest on Saturday following a public outpouring of support, but he still faces drug dealing charges that could send him to prison for up to 20 years.

A planned central Moscow protest - which did not receive permission from state officials - will still go ahead tomorrow, Vaessen said, with organisers promising "not to rest" until those who organised Golunov's detention are brought to justice. The media community believes this is simply a way for the Russian authorities to silence a journalist who has been probing into Russia's criminal activities.

Yevgeny Bryun of the Russian health ministry said on state television on Sunday that lab tests of Golunov's urine did not find any traces of drugs.

More than 23,000 people have responded to a Facebook event for the Moscow march in support of Golunov on Wednesday, a public holiday in the country for Russia Day.

Supporters mounted a nationwide campaign on his behalf, with journalists and others picketing Moscow police headquarters for five days.

Kolokoltsev said he would ask the Russian president to dismiss two senior police officials and suspend the officers who detained the journalist Friday. In a country where the acquittal rate in courts is less than 1%, instances of high profile cases being closed are essentially unheard of and, even in ordinary cases, charges are rarely dropped.

The European Union (EU) also welcomed Russia's withdrawal of charges against Golunov, but called for a "thorough and transparent investigation" into an eventual "police brutality" during his detention.

Officers said they had discovered the drug mephedrone in his bag and more drugs and weighing scales in a search of his home. "Similar cases here have previously got caught up in Russia's legal system with no way to get out, with the Kremlin saying they were unable to free a detained person - and Golunov's supporters were very anxious he would meet the same fate".

Several hundred people reportedly protested on Saturday for Golunov's release; further protests are planned for Wednesday, June 12, which is a national holiday in Russian Federation. The dailies said they did not consider the evidence presented by investigators to be convincing.

"What has happened to this journalist can, in principle, happen to any of us, since freedom in the media, however depressing this may sound, is rapidly diminishing". Golunov would be released from house arrest on Tuesday, he said.

Golunov mainly publishes investigative reports exposing corruption in the Russian capital, for example regarding the procurement of plants or New Year's Eve decorations for a party.

"We demand that the law be observed by everyone and for everyone", they said. In a separate statement later, the police said they found cocaine at his place.

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