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The real criminals are the ones who imprisoned journalist Ivan Safronov A Meduza editorial
A Russian court has convicted journalist Ivan Safronov of “high treason” and sentenced him to 22 years in a maximum-security prison. According to investigators, Safronov’s crime was collecting data on the Russian military for a newsletter about Russia and Eastern Europe. Even prosecutors acknowledge that nearly everything Safronov gathered can be found on the Internet in the public domain.
Russia today defines treason very broadly, creating liability in cases as casual as two friends texting about troop movements in town. The minimum penalty for this offense is 12 years in prison — two years more than in the Soviet system. Yet even in this wide array of convictions (and there will undoubtedly come a day when the innocent are freed and exonerated), Ivan’s 22-year sentence stands out for its unprecedented cruelty. Safronov’s prison term is longer than the sentences handed down to Boris Nemtsov’s convicted killer, to one of the men who organized the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, and even to Viktor Mokhov, the “Maniac of Skopin,” who kidnapped two girls in 2000, kept them in a basement, and raped them for almost four years.
As investigative work by BBC Russia demonstrates convincingly, it was Ivan’s work as a reporter that provoked the treason charges against him. Given the severity with which Safronov was prosecuted, the likeliest (albeit not the only) explanation for the case is that someone featured unflatteringly in one of his stories has retaliated. If this is what happened, it’s our job as Ivan’s colleagues to find whoever did this.
Of course, the Safronov case is also an act of intimidation.
The message his sentence sends is even more ominous when you recall his specialization as a journalist: Ivan Safronov spent years reporting on Russia’s army, defense and aerospace industries, and high-tech military trade. After his arrest, the authorities also introduced a special kind of “foreign agent activity” pertaining specifically to journalists and experts working on these subjects. Those who fall under this category are even required to declare themselves to the government or face felony liability — a condition imposed on no other type of “foreign agent” in Russia.
In effect, the authorities have banned Russians from writing freely about the military and any related topics. Those who challenge this prohibition on legitimate journalism and research can be locked away in prison for decades.
The same criminal code under which Safronov was convicted also outlaws the planning, preparation, and unleashing of a war of aggression. In other words, the Kremlin is trying to conceal its own crimes by targeting journalists, methodically abusing its limitless police powers to eliminate witnesses. The authorities have made it clear that they’re ready to destroy anyone who dares to remain in the country and practice independent journalism. Twenty-two years behind bars is time stolen not just from the convict but also from every loved one in his life.
We demand Ivan’s freedom, wish fortitude to his friends and family, and hope that justice comes for those who wrongfully imprisoned him.
Cover photo: Yuri Kochetkov / EPA / Scanpix / LETA
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