Ivan Safronov

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Russian journalist Ivan Safronov is serving a 22-year prison sentence after being convicted on treason charges in September 2022. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers detained Safronov in Moscow in July 2020 in connection with his journalism and accused him of spying for a foreign country. His trial was conducted in secret for alleged national security reasons.

Safronov worked as a military correspondent for Russian business dailies Kommersant and Vedomosti and reported on Russia’s military and its aerospace industry for more than 10 years, according to news reports. On May 20, 2020, he took a job as an adviser at the Russian government space agency Roskosmos, according to reports.

On July 7, 2020, FSB officers detained Safronov near his Moscow apartment and charged him with spying for a foreign country, a member of NATO, according to media reports

Ivan Pavlov, the journalist’s defense attorney, told CPJ in a phone interview in late November 2020 that the charges were related to Safronov’s journalism, and that agents interrogated Safronov about his March 2019 reporting on Russia’s alleged sale of jet fighters to Egypt. 

On May 20, 2019, Kommersant fired Safronov and another journalist with whom he had recently worked on an article about the alleged planned resignation of the Russian speaker of parliament, according to news reportsReports at the time alleged that the speaker had called the owner of Kommersant following that article’s publication in April and demanded the reporters be fired. Following the firings, 11 other Kommersant journalists resigned in protest, according to those reports.

Both the speaker and the Kommersant owner denied those allegations, according to those reports.

The day after Safronov was fired, Russian state media regulator Roskomnadzor ordered Kommersant to delete a March 19, 2019, report by Safronov about that alleged arms sale, claiming that it contained state secrets, according to news reports. Following that article’s publication, the U.S. government threatened Egypt with sanctions for buying Russian warplanes, according to news reports at the time. 

The regulator sued the newspaper for allegedly disclosing state secrets, but the suit was rejected by a court, which said it lacked enough information on the case, according to reports at the time. 

After leaving Kommersant, Safronov worked from July 2019 through March 2020 at Vedomosti, where he covered other sensitive topics, such as the deaths of three Russian soldiers in Syria and allegations of an American spy in the Kremlin. In March 2020, he resigned from Vedomosti, along with several other journalists, over a dispute with the publication’s newly appointed chief editor, according to the news outlet and U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Following Safronov’s arrest on July 7, 2020, Kommersant issued a statement calling the charges against him “absurd” and saying that, “He left Kommersant after the well-known conflict but we continue to regard him with unconditional respect.”

The FSB alleges that Safronov was recruited as a spy by the Czech Republic in 2012 and provided classified military information to Czech sources in 2017, which were then turned over to the United States, according to news reports. Martin Larish, a Czech journalist alleged to be Safronov’s recruiter into the intelligence services, was quoted as saying by the BBC Russian service that he knew Safronov as a colleague and denied any connection to Czech intelligence.

Speaking to journalists at a press conference in Moscow soon after Safronov’s arrest, presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called Safronov a talented journalist, according to independent news website Meduza. In October 2020, when asked about Safronov’s case, Peskov said, “We are also worried about Ivan’s fate,” and advised journalists to wait for the results of the official investigation. He did not give any details on the case, saying that they were classified, according to news reports

Safronov has denied the allegations of high treason, according to Pavlov. 

On September 2, 2020, the Lefortovo district court ruled in a closed hearing that Safronov must be detained pending investigation, Pavlov told CPJ. He said that lawyers working on the case, himself included, had to sign nondisclosure agreements, and that the trial would be held in secret. 

On May 25, 2021, a Moscow court dismissed Safronov’s appeal for release, reports said.

On August 24, 2021, Roskosmos head Dmitriy Rogozin said that Safronov would remain as his adviser until the court issued its decision, Kommersant reported.  

On September 7, 2021, Pavlov left Russia after authorities opened a criminal case against him for allegedly disclosing information from the preliminary investigation in Safronov’s case, reports said.  

Safronov’s friend, Aleksandra Dzhordzhevich, a correspondent with the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, told CPJ in September 2021 via phone that after Pavlov fled the country, other lawyers were afraid to disclose information on Safronov’s case. 

In late August 2022, media reported that the classified information Safronov allegedly shared was already publicly available, and that he was being prosecuted in retaliation for his 2019 reporting on Russian’s sale of fighter jets to Egypt. 

On September 5, 2022, a court in Moscow convicted Safronov of treason, sentenced him to 22 years in prison, and imposed a fine of 500,000 rubles (US$8,100), according to multiple media reports

The journalist was also sentenced to two years of restricted freedom following his release, media reported. He will be eligible for parole after serving at least two-thirds of his sentence, Russian state news agency TASS reported

Earlier that day, the European Union delegation to Russia had called on Russian authorities to drop the charges against the journalist and release him unconditionally.

On November 28, 2022, the Russian independent human rights organization Memorial declared Safronov a political prisoner.

In February 2023, Safronov was transferred to the maximum-security prison No. 7 in the Siberian city of Areyskoye to serve his sentence, media reported

On August 2, the Russian Supreme Court upheld Safronov’s sentence. Safronov has now exhausted all possibilities to contest his sentence in Russia, media reported

Safronov’s fiancé Ksenia Mironova told CPJ in an email in August that Supreme Court ruling was expected, “knowing the Russian judiciary.” 

“We last had a normal live conversation on July 7, 2020, the day of the arrest—unfortunately, nothing has changed here yet,” Mironova said, adding that she could only communicate with the journalist via letters. 

Mironova told CPJ in October 2023 that the journalist’s health was “normal,” but that he was tired from a recent transfer to a hospital and had recently lost 5-7 kilograms (11-15 pounds In September, Safronov was briefly taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk for unknown reasons, before being brought back to prison No. 7. 

In October 2023,

CPJ emailed the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office for comment but did not receive any replies.