On June 6, Moscow police arrested the journalist Ivan Golunov, accusing him of drug possession and drug trafficking. Golunov, 36, is a reporter for the Meduza opposition portal. He’s known for his investigations against the corrupt system running the business world of the Russian capital, and he has received multiple death threats as a result of his work.
According to the prosecutors, however, Golunov is supposedly part of a dangerous criminal organization involved in drug trafficking, an accusation that carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison in Russia.
Soon after, however, came the news of a dramatic turn of events: the reporter was rushed to a hospital after being beaten and tortured by the police.
The ambulance doctors who evaluated Golunov found a hematoma on the back of his head, as well as multiple bruises on both the front and the back of the rib cage, damage to 10 or 11 of his ribs, a suspected closed skull-brain trauma and suspected cerebral concussion.
In the face of mounting public outrage, worsening by the hour, the government is now trying to distance itself and shed some light on what happened. The oversight bodies of the Interior Ministry have initiated an investigation into the events.
“In view of the reaction by public opinion, we will check in detail whether the actions of the police were strictly within the bounds of legality,” the ministry stated. “We are confident that if Minister Vladimir Kolokolzev finds violations committed by the security bodies, he will not leave those responsible unpunished.”
The version of events told by the police had already been questioned by the journalist’s lawyers and friends since the day of his arrest. Law enforcement first claimed that they arrested Golunov during the afternoon of June 7 in his car, after finding him in possession of 4 grams of mephedrone (later, the police said that they also found 5 grams of cocaine in his apartment after a search).
However, the journalist claims he was arrested on the night of June 6, beaten and not allowed to contact his lawyers or friends for over 11 hours. As for the drugs, they were slipped into his bag by a policeman. If true, such treatment closely recalls other such tragic episodes that happened in the past, including in Italy.
Golunov’s lawyer, Dmitry Julay, later said his client had been held “under conditions that did not respect basic human rights or Russian legislation,” as he “had not received food rations and was prevented from sleeping” for over 24 hours.
The mobilization of the Russian media world began immediately. The Russian Union of Journalists called for the immediate release of their colleague, saying that it “considers the charges against Godunov not credible, the conditions in which he is being held and the manner of his arrest intolerable, and expresses concern for the ever-growing level of intimidation against free journalism.” The famous sports journalist Yurii Dud declared his solidarity with Golunov, and even the most famous Russian television talk-show host, Vladimir Solovyov, who has very close ties to Putin, said that he was “perplexed” and “wanted to take a close look” at what happened.
From Europe, a message from the OECD came which also called for Golunov’s immediate release. Meanwhile, spontaneous pickets and demonstrations against police violence have taken place in many cities across Russia. In Perm and Moscow, police detained some of the demonstrators, accusing them of “excesses.”
But the pressure seems to have had a clear effect: in a court hearing late on Saturday, Golunov was ordered released from prison and placed under house arrest for two months. While this is certainly a victory, he has not been cleared of the charges against him. Nor are the protesters willing to stop just yet: over 300 people were expected to attend a demonstration in his support in front of the police headquarters in Moscow on Sunday evening.
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