Russian reporter under house arrest for drug-trafficking charges

In a rare case, a Moscow court on Saturday placed an investigative journalist under house arrest for two months for “large-scale drug trafficking”, Russian news agencies reported.

Ivan Golunov, 36, above, who works for a Lativia-based news website Medusa, was detained on Friday in Moscow for carrying 4 grams of methylephedron in his backpack. Five grams of cocaine was later seized from his apartment, police said.

Golunov said he never used drugs, the backpack does not belong to him and the illegal drugs were planted on him by police to frame him for his reports that exposed the corrupt from funeral business to the higher echelons of power.

Medusa’s director said Golunov had been receiving death threats from criminal groups for whom funeral is a business as some 2 million Russians die every year.

Golunov’s colleagues said he was wrongfully charged and arrested for exposing city officials and others laundering money worth tens of billions of roubles.

Legal experts said Golunov’s case focuses on the discovery of the drug and ignores potential motives and evidence, if any.

The reporter was on his way to meet a source for a story he was working on when police detained him.

People want to know why Golunov carried the drug in the backpack so openly and the evidence that led to his arrest.

His lawyers said police refused to conduct tests on him to see whether he had been using the illegal drugs.

Golunov’s court appearance was delayed on Saturday as he collapsed in police custody and was taken in an ambulance to hospital after being beaten by police during questioning.

He told a member of the presidential rights council who visited him that police punched him in the head and stood on his chest. He said he had not slept or eaten for 24 hours.

His lawyers said paramedics suspected he suffered broken ribs and concussion.

Police denied he was beaten in custody. They said he was taken to hospital after he felt unwell.

But the ambulance doctor told Interfax agency that Golunov had swelling on the back of the head and bruises on the rib cage.

However, the chief doctor in the city hospital ruled out any head injury, bruises or fractures and discharged him from the facility.

Golunov’s lawyers later objected when the prosecutor produced the hospital’s discharge certificate that allowed police to produce him before the court.

The lawyers said they were seeing the certificate for the first time and wanted to know where it came from.

They also questioned the interior ministry for initially posting nine photos captioned ‘narcotic substances found in Golunov’s apartment’ on their website and then deleting them.

Amnesty International’s office in Russia said the journalist’s case follows a pattern where authorities plant drugs on the targets to stop their activities by jailing him.

If convicted, Golunov may face jail up to 20 years.

Meduza general director Galina Timchenko said Golunov did not listen to her advice to contact police.

“They (criminals) said ‘we’ll bury you (Golunov) forever’,” she said.

Kommersant reporters sacked

Journalists in Russia’s shrinking independent media are under pressure to leave organisations over reports that upset Kremlin or expose corruption in high places.

Recently, two reporters of Kommersant newspaper Maxim Ivanov and Ivan Safronov were sacked for reporting on a possible political reshuffle.

Officials named in the story denied the report fearing a possible setback in their political career and complained to the publisher.

After Ivanov and Safronov were dismissed for refusing to identify the sources behind the story, 13 journalists of Kommersant’s political desk quit in protest.

Kommersant’s editor denied its owner, Alisher Usmanov, had any role in the sacking of the two reporters. But his colleagues doubted the claim.

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