Investigative journalist detained in Russia on drug charges

Moscow (AFP) –


Russia has detained an investigative journalist on drugs charges that supporters on Friday condemned as trumped-up and suggested were punishment for his reporting.

Ivan Golunov, a reporter with Meduza, an independent Russian-language media outlet, was detained in central Moscow on Thursday and police have opened a probe into manufacturing and dealing drugs.

A police spokesman told AFP a 36-year-old man had been detained with five packages of mephedrone, a designer drug.

The Meduza website decried his arrest.

"We have reasons to believe that Golunov is being persecuted for his journalistic work," Meduza general director Galina Timchenko and editor-in-chief Ivan Kolpakov said in a statement.

They described Golunov as "one of Russia's most famous investigative journalists."

Reporters Without Borders warned the arrest could mark "a significant escalation in the persecution" of independent journalists in Russia.

The Meduza website is based in EU member Latvia to circumvent censorship from Moscow, but some of its journalists live in Russia.

Timchenko and Kolpakov said the journalist had received threats in recent months.

In his investigations, Golunov zeroed in on everything from Russia's shady funeral industry to corruption within Moscow city hall.

The journalist's lawyer Dmitry Dzhulai said police claimed had found the packages containing drugs in Golunov's backpack and apartment.

"There are a lot of facts signalling that the drugs have been planted," the lawyer told AFP.

He said the journalist had been beaten while in detention and pointed to numerous violations including a refusal by investigators to take swabs of the journalist's fingernails and backpack to check for handling of drugs.

"He was detained at 2.30 pm yesterday and I only got a call at 4.30 am," Dzhulai said.

- 'Suspicious behaviour' -

During his two decades in power Russian President Vladimir Putin has silenced most of his critics and muzzled independent media.

The few opposition and independent media that still operate in Russia are under huge pressure, Kremlin critics say.

Golunov's arrest sparked outrage among his supporters and fellow journalists.

Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center said Golunov was a close friend and did not take stimulants because he did not like an "altered state of mind."

Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, pointed to "the police's highly suspicious behaviour".

"This suggests trumped-up charges to silence an investigative journalist well known for his hard-hitting reporting," Bihr told AFP.

"If such methods were indeed used against such a prominent would mark a significant escalation in the persecution of independent journalism in Russia."