What we know, so far, about the arrest of ‘Meduza’ correspondent Ivan Golunov
On June 6, around 2:40 pm.m, police arrested Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov on Tsvetnoy Boulevard in Moscow. At the time, Golunov was headed to a work meeting with other journalists. When he was questioned by police, Golunov said two men dressed in civilian clothes ran up behind him and told him that he was under arrest. When he asked the men to identify themselves, he says they answered, “What, you haven’t guessed? Criminal investigators!” The two men pinned his arms behind his back, handcuffed him, and then placed him in the back seat of a patrol car. The men only identified themselves (the arresting officers were Roman Filimonov and Dmitry Kozhanov, and an officer named Akbar was behind the wheel) after Golunov demanded a lawyer. The officers then removed Golunov’s mobile phone from the pocket of his jeans and ordered him to unlock it. He refused.
Golunov was brought to Moscow’s Western Administrative District police station no later than 3:40 p.m. He was accompanied by a witness, whom one of the officers addressed with the phrase, “Hi, Sergey. Are you feeling sick or something?” (The individual was wearing a flu mask.) When Golunov demanded a lawyer, the police informed him that they would first conduct a “mandatory inspection,” claiming that an attorney’s presence wasn’t necessary. After examining Golunov, the officers opened his backpack, which had rested on a chair during the inspection (where Golunov periodically lost sight of it). Inside the bag, the police found a packet containing five balls. Two of these objects were sent for analysis, which identified the substance as 3.56 grams of the drug mephedrone (a synthetic amphetamine).
Police officers hit Golunov during the examination, he said when he was later questioned. Afterwards, Golunov was transferred from the police station to a drug dependence clinic for a medical examination. There, when he again demanded to speak to a lawyer and grabbed hold of a chair, the officers started pulling at his arms, causing Golunov to fall and hit his head. The officers then dragged him across the floor. “I scraped my right hand when they dragged me. At the bottom of the stairs, they were dragging me, and [a police officer named Maxim] put his foot on my chest. Another officer also named Maxim punched me in the cheek,” Golunov testified. The police station later issued a press release stating that reports about Golunov’s beating “are not true.”
News about Golunov’s arrest was made public only 12 hours after the fact, when detective Igor Lopatin called Golunov’s friend, BBC Russian Service journalist Svetlana Reiter, at 4 a.m. on June 7. “I heard Vanya [Ivan] in the background. He said, ‘My congratulations to everyone. The system works beautifully. There were two clumsy attempts to plant drugs on me.’ He said it in a very calm voice,” Reiter said. It was only after this telephone call that Golunov was granted access to “Agora” human rights group lawyer Dmitry Dzhulai. Police started questioning Golunov in Dzhulai’s presence at 6:55 a.m. Dzhulai says the officers refused to bring in paramedics to collect evidence of the injuries on Golunov’s body.
Police didn’t file a formal report until 3:50 a.m. on June 7, by which time a felony investigation was formally opened. Golunov is charged with intent to distribute a large amount of a controlled substance, which puts him at risk of between 10 and 20 years in prison. According to Golunov’s case file, at an unspecified time, at an unspecified place, from an unidentified person, he purchased five packets of illegal drugs, which he intended to resell. “However, he was unable to complete the crime, due to circumstances beyond his control, because he was arrested,” the police claim.
Golunov says the drugs found in his possession are not his, and he maintains his innocence. The police refused to take samples from Golunov’s backpack, hands, or fingernails, for forensic analysis that could determine if he was ever in contact with the drugs police say they found.
The police say they searched Golunov’s apartment, but they shared photographs that were not taken at his home. Before an official press release, these photos were leaked by the Telegram channels Baza and 112. The images show large bags of powder and various chemicals, though statements from the Moscow police have addressed only three bags, a packet, and a scale. Golunov’s friends have noticed that all the published photographs, except for one, do not appear to have been taken in his apartment. Police spokespeople later acknowledged that just one of these photographs is from Golunov's home.
Dmitry Dzhulai told Meduza that police officers in fact removed only three packets and a scale from Golunov’s home. “Ivan also explained to me that, when they brought him to his apartment for the search, he spent 20 to 30 minutes in the patrol car with some officers. [...] The police seized his keys the moment the arrested him, which means the officers had 20 to 30 minutes to go into the apartment and do anything,” the attorney said. At the time of this writing, investigators had not provided Dzhulai with a copy of their search report.
Meduza’s newsroom is confident in Ivan Golunov’s innocence, CEO Galina Timchenko and editor-in-chief Ivan Kolpakov explained in a statement: “Moreover, we have reason to believe he’s been targeted because of his work as a journalist. We know that Ivan has received threats in recent months, and we think we know from whom. Meduza will follow closely every action 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.”
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has asked Moscow Interior Ministry head Oleg Baranov to take direct control over the criminal case against Golunov, the mayor’s spokeswoman told the website The Bell.
Russia’s Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers has called for picketing outside Moscow’s police headquarters to protest Golunov’s arrest. More than 200 people RSVP'd for the event on Facebook, which was organized by former Meduza correspondent Ilya Azar. Pickets in support of Golunov took places in several other cities across the country, as well. The journalists’ union also published an open letter demanding Golunov’s immediate release, stating that any evidence against him should be made public immediately.
The Attorney General’s Office says it will review the case against Golunov. “We will not allow the slightest deviation from the law by either side,” the agency’s spokesman told Interfax. State Duma deputy Sergey Shargunov previously asked Attorney General Yuri Chaika to review Golunov’s case, highlighting the procedural violations reported by Golunov and his lawyer. Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov has also appealed to Chaika, asking him to take personal control over the investigation and the circumstances of the journalist’s detention.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock