New York, June 7, 2019 -- Russian authorities should immediately drop all charges against investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, release him, and investigate allegations that he was beaten in police custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, in Moscow, two men approached Golunov, an investigative reporter for the independent news website Meduza, grabbed him, handcuffed him, and dragged him to a nearby vehicle, according to a statement by his employer. After Golunov demanded to speak to a lawyer, the men identified themselves as police officers, according to the statement.
The officers detained Golunov at a Ministry of Interior building, where they charged him with possessing and attempting to sell illegal drugs after allegedly finding amphetamines in his backpack, according to a statement by the Moscow division of the ministry, which oversees the city's police force.
Following his arrest, officers punched and slapped Golunov in the head and chest, pushed him to the ground, and dragged him on the floor, according to the Meduza statement. For the first 14 hours of his detention, Golunov was not allowed to contact a lawyer or his family, according to the Meduza statement and media reports.
Ivan Kolpakov, editor-in-chief at Meduza, told CPJ the drug charges were "absurd," and said, "I have no doubts that the charges are fabricated and are related to Golunov's journalism."
Golunov is detained at the Ministry of Interior Main Division for the Western Administrative Area, Kolpakov told CPJ. He said Golunov will appear before a judge tomorrow, who will rule whether the journalist will remain in detention or if he will be released while the drug investigation is pending.
"Russian authorities should immediately drop their charges against Ivan Golunov, release him, and investigate allegations of mistreatment of the journalist in police custody," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said. "Russia has a long history of politically motivated charges against independent reporters. Investigative journalism is treated as a crime where it ought to be viewed as a public service."
According to the Ministry of Interior statement, police also found drugs in Golunov's apartment, which they searched following his arrest. The ministry posted nine photos of the alleged narcotics, but then took all but one of the photos down, saying they were from other apartments and were posted accidentally, according to the statement.
Golunov's lawyer accused police of planting the drugs on his client to frame him, according to Reuters. The lawyer told Meduza that Golunov requested police test his hands and backpack to prove whether he had been in contact with the drugs, but that the officers refused.
The lawyer also told Meduza that when he met with Golunov, the journalist had scratches on his hand acquired during the alleged beating.
If found guilty of possessing a controlled substance and attempting to sell it, the journalist could face up to 20 years in prison, according to the Russian criminal code.
The interior ministry denied that Golunov was beaten during his arrest, according to the statement. CPJ emailed the ministry for comment, but did not receive a response.
Golunov has written about alleged money laundering, ties between state officials and organized crime, and corruption in politically powerful businesses, according to CPJ's review of his work on Meduza.
Kolpakov told CPJ that Golunov had been working on several stories and "any of them could have led to the retaliatory charges."