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‘It doesn’t need to be called public outcry’ The Kremlin’s spokesman responds to the controversial Safronov case

Source: Meduza
Sofya Sandurskaya / EPA / Scanpix / LETA

On the morning of July 7, federal agents in Moscow arrested Ivan Safronov on treason charges. He was arraigned in court later that day and sentenced to two months in jail. Safronov had recently started working as a communications advisor to the head of Russia’s space corporation “Roscosmos,” after nearly ten years of reporting on the Russian military-industrial complex for top business newspapers like Kommersant and Vedomosti. According to the investigation, Safronov passed classified information about Russia’s military to Czech intelligence. His lawyers, on the other hand, are appealing his imprisonment, maintaining that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) hasn’t presented any evidence of his involvement in the crime. Safronov maintains that he’s not guilty. Here’s how Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov responded to reporters’ questions about Safronov’s case the day after his arrest.

Following the arrest of former investigative journalist Ivan Safronov on treason charges, a number of Russia’s top media outlets released statements condemning the allegations — some even called the case “absurd.” So what does this tell the Kremlin? 

“These journalistic materials are mainly based on emotions,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, responding to a reporter from Kommersant FM during a press conference call on Wednesday, July 8. “Of course, they don’t have and can’t have any real information on the results of counterintelligence work. Here, you simply have to leave this case up to the court.” 

Asked about whether or not Russian President Vladimir Putin is aware of the public outcry in response to Safronov’s arrest — including the single-person demonstrations outside of the FSB headquarters in Moscow (and in other Russian cities) — Peskov insisted that “public outcry and outcry in the media not be confused.” 

“Of course we are paying great attention to the opinions of those journalists that they are publishing. This is a few dozen publications, a few dozen opinions, which doesn’t need to be called public outcry,” Peskov maintained. “Only a court can find a person guilty. Writing opinions on the invalidity of certain charges without possessing any information has nothing to do with professionalism, at the very least.”

Peskov then turned around and praised Safronov for his work as a reporter, describing him as a “very talented journalist” — while continuing to insist that only the courts can assess the treason charges: “We value his journalist talent greatly. But we don’t know the essence of these charges that were voiced against him.”

Naturally, this statement led a reporter from Ekho Moskvy to draw attention to the fact that Safronov will not undergo a public trial (treason prosecutions in Russia are carried out behind closed doors). “Doesn’t the Kremlin think that in this situation the process should be as open and transparent as possible?” the journalist asked.

“For a particular category of charges there is a specific system of consideration of these cases in court, related to secrecy. Therefore, it would probably be wrong to rely on the opinion of individual journalists and somehow change the existing law,” Peskov said. “First and foremost we are inclined towards the impossibility of commenting on this situation, in the context of the [recently launched] investigation and the pending judicial review.” 

Read more about treason cases in Russia

Given the lack of public information on the trial, journalists asked Peskov if it would be possible for the Kremlin or the president to request additional information about Safronov’s case. But Putin’s press secretary didn’t seem to think this would be necessary: “The president certainly has this kind of possibility. But, first of all, this is by no means a topic for the president. And secondly, an investigation is actually happening, the trial is pending. Why do we a priori proceed from this kind of mistrust?”

Meduza’s correspondent then asked Peskov what the Kremlin thinks about the journalists arrested during single-person demonstrations in support of Safronov. “You know, we don’t think anything about this. This is a question for law enforcement, not the Kremlin,” Peskov said. 

Ekho Moskvsy’s correspondent received a similar response after asking about whether the president has taken an interest in the growing number of lawsuits and arrests targeting the country’s journalists — “Hasn’t the Kremlin noticed such a trend?”

“No, we haven’t noticed and don’t see such a trend,” said the Kremlin’s spokesman.

Summary by Eilish Hart