‘We’re all here defending our profession’ Journalists arrested in Moscow during solidarity gathering for jailed reporter Ivan Safronov
During the afternoon of Monday, July 13, former investigative journalist and Roscosmos communications advisor Ivan Safronov was formally charged with treason. To support Safronov, the independent journalists’ union organized a “rally” outside of Moscow’s Lefortovo Pretrial Detention Center, where Safronov is being held. Even though hardly any of the participants were picketing or yelling slogans, law-enforcement officers considered the meeting a “mass rally” and arrested 18 journalists. Meduza special correspondent Kristina Safonova shares her eye-witness report from outside of the pre-trial detention center.
“I think that the trial for Ivan Safronov’s case should be public. It seems to me that journalists should be afraid. Because if we lose freedom of speech, which we are losing every day, each of us could end up in Ivan’s place,” says journalist Sofya Rusova.
Rusova is holding a sign with a portrait of Safronov and the phrase “Journalism is not a crime.” Behind her is the wall surrounding the Lefortovo Pretrial Detention Center, where Ivan Safronov — a communications advisor to the head of Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos and a former defense reporter for the top business newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti — has been held since his arrest on July 7.
The independent Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union had organized the solidarity meeting outside of the detention center — by 1:00 p.m. approximately 100 people had gathered there. Nearly all of them were journalists. That said, a number of reporters were sent there to cover the rally for work.
Rusova’s picketing lasted no more than five minutes. Police officers came and took her away to a paddy wagon. Very few of the other protesters had signs. Instead, many of them were wearing t-shirts with the phrase “Freedom for Safronov” (#СвободуСафронову) and “ShpionoVanya” (a play on words based on the nickname for Ivan, Vanya, and the Russian word for “spy mania” — shpionomania), which were being handed out on the spot.
“Dear citizens, please disperse. Your rally is unauthorized,” police officers repeated over a loudspeaker. Law-enforcement officials continued carrying out arrests: eight journalists wearing t-shirts in support of Safronov were bundled into the police van, including Kommersant special correspondent Olga Allenova. “I am here to support Vanya. I’m afraid that he doesn’t know it. But, to be honest, I simply can’t stay home. I’m simply ashamed to stay home, I couldn’t not come. I think that now we’re all here defending our profession,” Allenova tells reporters shortly before her arrest.
Not long after, the first police van full of detainees leaves for the Kapotnya Police Station (according to OVD-Info, Sofya Rusova was taken to the Lefortovo Police Station). Police officers begin filling up a second paddy wagon with detainees, even though no one is picketing and none of the attendees are chanting anything.
Former Meduza special correspondent and Holod Media editor-in-chief Taisiya Bekbulatova, who is considered a witness in Safronov’s case, is arrested for wearing a t-shirt supporting him. Kommersant correspondent Alexander Chernykh and journalist Arina Borodina are the next to go into the paddy wagon, followed by a few more people.
All total, 18 journalists are arrested outside of the detention center; few of them are given a reason for their arrest. At the time of publication, they had all been released, but are set to be issued protocols for violating the regulations on holding “mass events.”
Safronov’s loved ones also attend the meeting, including his sister Irina and her husband Maxim Kovyazin, as well as his girlfriend, journalist and former Meduza employee Ksenia Mironova. Irina Safronova refuses to give comments; she and Mironova stand outside of the detention center, holding hands.
Maxim Kovyazin tells Meduza that he believes Ivan is innocent. “These accusations are either some kind of monstrous provocation or a mistake. This trial should just be as open as possible,” he says, adding that detaining journalists for wearing t-shirts supporting their colleague is “utter nonsense.” “This is characteristic of the reality in our country,” Kovyazin concludes.
One of Safronov’s lawyers comes to the detention center: Ivan Pavlov of the human rights organization “Team 29.” He tells reporters that he is staying outside intentionally, to avoid signing a non-disclosure agreement. “This is an unfounded accusation, which isn’t supported by documentary [evidence],” Pavlov says. “There weren’t even secret investigations. They hid the trial from you so that you wouldn’t see the void that is in the case file.”
Around 15:30, reports emerge that Safronov has been formally charged with treason. Safronov’s sister Irina covers her face with her hands. A paddy wagon full of detainees leaves for the Kuzminki Police Station. The sidewalk outside of the Lefortovo Pretrial Detention Center begins to clear. On the other side of the street, lawyer Ivan Pavlov repeatedly tells reporters that the prosecution didn’t provide any evidence of Safronov’s guilt, and that he’s being persecuted for his journalistic activities.
“The presumption that everyone should maintain is that Ivan was a journalist then and he is being persecuted as a journalist [now]. Let our procedural opponents prove the opposite to you, let them show the court the documents on the basis of which they are justifying the charge. We haven’t seen these documents yet. Even though the court was the best place to present this kind of evidence,” Pavlov says.
According to the lawyer, state investigators analyzed Safronov’s reporting for Kommersant and Vedomosti, and found that they didn’t contain any classified information (federal investigators accused Safronov of passing state secrets to Czech intelligence).
“They put this forward as evidence that [the case] isn’t linked to his journalistic activities,” Pavlov explained. “But we understand that journalistic activity is multi-faceted. It’s not only [about what’s in print]...You all have a sufficient amount of information that you don’t publish for various reasons. But this doesn’t mean that this information contains state secrets, and moreover it’s not evidence that you are using this information against the security of Russia.”