Sergei Nikitin on the case of journalist Ivan Golunov

posted 11 Jun 2019, 13:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2019, 11:08 by Translation Service ]
10 June 2019

In these blogs, Sergei Nikitin presents a selection of materials about human rights in Russia.

Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2017. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.

Ivan Golunov is a correspondent for the online media outlet In the past, he has been involved in researching political corruption.

He was detained on the afternoon of June 6th in the centre of Moscow, where he was set to meet with other journalists. Two young men in civilian clothing ran up to him. "They came up behind me, one of them grabbed my arm” one of the men said: ''You are being detained." I asked: "Who are you?" They said to me: “What, you haven’t guessed? Criminal investigators!” This only came to light on the morning of June 7th. The police claim to have found 3.56 grams of mephedrone on his person, as well as a number of bags containing an unknown substance at his home. Golunov believes he is being framed.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow reported that Golunov was found in possession of five packets containing a powdery substance, with an additional three found in his home. The announcement was accompanied by photographs of packages containing white powder, laboratory glassware and bottles full of chemicals. A friend of Golunov claims that only one of these photographs was actually taken in Golunov’s apartment. Those containing evidence of drug possession, he believes, were staged elsewhere.

Despite the fact that Golunov was detained on the afternoon of June 6th, it was not until 3am on June 7th that investigator Igor Lopatin contacted Ivan’s friend, BBC journalist Svetlana Reiter, and suggested that she find a lawyer. Lawyer Dmitry Dzhulai told Meduza that Golunov had demanded to call for legal aid. The journalist also asked them to test his hands and nails to see whether he had actually touched drugs. However, the police refused. In addition to this, Golunov said that he was beaten by the police. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has denied this.

Meduza’s CEO, Galina Timchenko and editor-in-chief, Ivan Kolpakov; maintain that Golunov is innocent and that he is being persecuted as a result of his journalistic work. “We know that Ivan has received threats in recent months, and we think we know from whom. Meduza will follow closely every action taken by the investigators in Golunov’s case. We will find out who is behind this, and make the information public. We will defend our journalist by all available means.”

Golunov is known for his investigations of corruption within the Moscow mayor’s office and in the funeral services industry.

The search of Golunov’s bag took place in the presence of a witness, who appeared to be friends with the police. They took out a bag containing something multi-coloured from his rucksack. According to Golunov “It was a rectangular package, about the size of a passport.” There were small green-brown balls inside the package taken from his bag, which were shown to those present.

The evidence was packed into an envelope and sealed. Golunov refused to sign it, despite demands to do so. The journalist maintains that the package does not belong to him, saying: “This was the first time I’d seen it.” He noted that, during his arrest, the police were behind him and could have planted it in his backpack.

Golunov told police that he had never used psychoactive substances before.

Golunov has maintained his innocence and insists that the drugs do not belong to him. From the moment of his detainment, until 8:25am, no samples were taken from his hands or from under his nails, “because I’ve never used drugs, and never held them in my hands.” This lack of evidence may prove his innocence, he argues.

Pickets are being held to demand Golunov’s release in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs building in central Moscow. The Russian Union of Journalists has promised to obtain a statement from law enforcement agencies as soon as possible. The Presidential Council on Human Rights is needed to best understand the events. Duma deputy Sergei Shargunov has sent a request to the Prosecutor General.

On social media, many people are suggesting further legal action against journalists trying to expose the truth. As was the case with human rights defenders in the North Caucasus, it would seem that planting drugs has become a common method of dealing with political opposition in the capital.

For a chronicle of events in the case, see: Meduza

Translated by James Lofthouse