Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

20.35 11 Jun 2019


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Russia has freed a prominent investigative journalist, after drug charges against him prompted a major outcry.

Russia's interior minister admitted that there was a "lack of evidence" to prove the case against Ivan Golunov.

Vladimir Kolokoltsev also said two senior officials had been suspended from duty while a probe into the arrest takes place.

Mr Golunov - a writer for the Meduza website - was arrested on June 6th, accused of carrying and attempting to sell drugs.

Police claimed the 36-year-old was caught with four grammes of mephedrone, and also claimed five grammes of cocaine were found during a search of his apartment.

However, there was a swift national and international backlash to the arrest, with rights groups suggesting the drugs may have been planted on the journalist.

Amnesty International said the arrest of Golunov - who is known for his reporting on issues such as the loan shark business in Russia - followed a "depressingly familiar pattern".

Amnesty's Natalia Zviagina said: "A Russian journalist who has been critical of the authorities is detained by men in plain clothes, denied a meeting with his lawyer, complains of beatings and subsequently looks injured."

In a rare display of solidarity, three major Russian newspapers used the same headline on their Monday front pages to show their support for Golunov.

In this photo, Russia's three major newspapers use the same headline that reads: "I'm/we are Ivan Golunov", which is the name of a prominent Russian investigative reporter for the independent website Meduza, in Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Mr Golunov had been placed on house arrest while he awaited trial.

However, authorities have now made the decision to drop the charges entirely.

'Lack of evidence'

In a statement quoted by the TASS news agency, Mr Kolokoltsev said: "Following biological, forensic, fingerprint and genetic tests, a decision has been made to drop the criminal case against journalist Ivan Golunov for lack of evidence proving his involvement in the crime in question.

"He will be released from house arrest today, and the charges against him will be dropped."

Golunov's release has been widely welcomed.

Prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny said it was "wonderful news" and proved what can be achieved with "simple solidarity".

Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, hailed the "historic mobilisation of the Russian civil society".

Russia has been widely criticised for its approach to press freedom.

It was ranked 149th in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index due to issues such as 'draconian laws' and 'TV channels inundating viewers with propaganda'.

Main image: Prominent Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, centre, smiles as he leaves a Investigative Committee building in Moscow, Russia. Picture by: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/Press Association Images

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