Pressure mounts on Russian authorities over arrested journalist

Ivan Golunov, investigative journalist of the online newspaper Meduza, attends an arrest warrant hearing at Moscow’s Nikulinsky District Court; Golunov was detained on June 6 on suspicion of drug dealing, a search in his flat revealing five grams of cocaine.

Vladimir Gerdo | TASS | Getty Images

A public outcry has erupted in Russia following the arrest and charging of an investigative journalist in Russia with drug offences in what critics say was an attempt to frame the reporter and restrict the freedom of the press.

Investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who writes for independent Russian-language news website Meduza, was arrested last Thursday and charged over the weekend with possessing drugs with intent to supply.

The arrest and charges of Golunov have been widely seen as motivated by revenge, however, as Golunov is known to investigate political corruption. His employer Meduza, which is based in Latvia, put a statement on its website last Friday stating that Golunov was being threatened.

“We are convinced that Ivan Golunov is innocent. Moreover, we have reason to believe that Golunov is being persecuted because of his journalistic activities. We know that in recent months, Van has been threatened,” it said.

Amid an outcry at his arrest, Golunov has unusually been put under house arrest rather than police custody until August 7, Russian news agency TASS reported. His lawyers insist that the police had planted the drugs on Golunov and the journalist has pleaded not guilty to the drug dealing charges, TASS said.

His detention is seen as another example of harassment against journalists in Russia, a country in which numerous journalists have been harassed, attacked or murdered with attacks believed to be linked to the journalists’ investigative work and revelations of corruption.

Unlike many previous cases of journalist harassment, however, Golunov’s case has prompted a public outcry with protests outside Moscow’s police headquarters on Monday and calls for a bigger march on Wednesday, the New York TImes reported Monday.

A rally against Meduza investigative journalist Ivan Golunov’s detention gathers outside Moscow’s Nikulinsky District Court.

Sergei Fadeichev | TASS | Getty Images

In a highly unusual move, Russian newspapers Vedemosti, RBC and Kommersant published identical headlines on Monday stating, “I/We Are Ivan Golunov” and stated their support for Golunov. The case has been criticized even by Russia’s pro-Kremlin media outlets and commentators, according to the BBC.

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin was following the case closely. Speaking to reporters Monday, Peskov said: “Taking into account the high visibility of this case, of course, we closely monitor all the details,” according to TASS news agency. “It is our understanding that various issues that have to be clarified remain on the agenda.”

In addition, an ally of Putin said on Tuesday the drugs case again Golunov was a “very bad story,” Reuters reported, citing Interfax news agency. Whether public pressure on the authorities to release Golunov has any effect, remains to be seen. When contacted by CNBC, the Kremlin’s press office could not comment further.