‘We are Golunov’: Leading Russian papers run similar frontpage supporting charged journalist

Three leading publications in Russia had almost identical frontpages on Monday: a joint statement demanding transparency and accountability for narcotics police officers, whom they suspect of framing an investigative journalist.

The three business outlets: Kommersant, RBC and Vedomosti, led their editions with the words: ‘I am/We are Ivan Golunov,’ referring to a Moscow-based reporter, who was accused by the police of being a drug dealer. The joint statement says the case was highly suspicious, the police likely violated the law when arresting Golunov, and that the Russian journalistic community and civil society in general expect a thorough and transparent investigation into the suspected abuse of power.

The opinion seems to be shared by a lot of media professionals in Russia. Many public figures made similar remarks in the past few days, as Golunov’s case became a major scandal.

Golunov, 36, has spent years investigating alleged corruption and other crimes involving officials in Moscow. RBC and Vedomosti are among outlets that had published his exposés in the past. At the moment he is working for Meduza, a Latvia-based Russia-focused news website.

On Thursday, police detained Golunov in central Moscow. They say they found a plastic bag with mephedrone, a stimulant used as a recreational drug, in his backpack. His apartment was later searched and more mephedrone and cocaine was discovered, the police reported.

The journalist on Saturday was charged with large-scale possession of narcotics with intention to sell, which is a serious crime in Russia and carries a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison.

He insists the drugs were planted by the police officers, who were likely acting on behalf of the targets of his latest investigation: an exposé of a shady funeral business, allegedly operating under the protection of corrupt senior police officials.

On Monday it was reported that samples taken from Golunov for forensic testing didn’t contain any traces of drugs, corroborating his statement that he neither handled nor used banned substances.

The many supporters of Golunov point to numerous inconsistencies in the case against him. Those include the police releasing photos of an apparent drug lab and falsely saying they showed the journalist’s apartment after his arrest. Law enforcement later reversed its claim, saying only one picture was from the flat.

Police eventually said Golunov had been under investigation as a suspected drug dealer since March, but the officers on the case didn’t know he was a journalist. His regular trips to Riga, where the office of Meduza is located, were considered drug runs, they said. The police insist they can prove he had been selling narcotics in night clubs, but so far have not released the information.

The journalists also claim that he was harassed while in custody, with the police apparently denying his right to a lawyer for 15 hours and allegedly roughing him up. That triggered several days of street protests in support of Golunov in several cities. In Moscow, protesters picketed the city police HQ and the courthouse, where his drug case was heard on Saturday.

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