A Russian court on Monday sentenced a former journalist to 22 years in a high-security prison for two counts of treason, marking a new level of repression against the free press in Russia and sparking an outcry in the press community.
Ivan Safronov, 32, a former security correspondent for Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers, was arrested on his way to work in Moscow in July 2020 and accused of disclosing state secrets to representatives of foreign intelligence services.
Two months before his arrest, he had left his job in the news media to become an adviser to Roscosmos, the head of Russia’s space agency, but the agency said the charges were based on his work as a journalist.
The severity of the sentence – announced in a statement from the Basmanny court in Moscow – prompted a furious response.
On Tuesday, the Kommersant newspaper – where Mr. Safronov began his career and became a star defense reporter – boldly choosing to print. A letter On its front page Mr. In support of Safrono, it said its employees “remember every day what they can’t help.”
“We are not asking for any public evidence of your guilt,” said Mr. A letter sent to Safrono’s current residence says. “We are confident: under any other circumstances, you will be acquitted,” the letter said.
“We are waiting for you,” it added.
A business newspaper striving to become Russia’s record newspaper, Kommersant is owned by Alisher Usmanov, a businessman with ties to the Kremlin. The newspaper walked a fine line between preserving a degree of independence and avoiding the fate of other Russian publications that have closed under political pressure from the government.
In the highly classified case, Russian prosecutors told a journalist who worked for the Czech Republic’s foreign intelligence service, Mr. Safronov had revealed state secrets about Russian arms sales, his lawyers said. He is also accused of sharing unspecified secrets about Russia’s involvement in the war in Syria with a German political scientist, according to his lawyer Ivan Pavlov.
Mr. Safronov denied the allegations, saying his report relied only on information obtained from publicly available sources. He refused to enter into a plea agreement with the prosecutor, his attorney said.
The sentence sent a chill through the Russian press community, which has been under pressure since the government made it illegal to publish anything that deviated from the Kremlin line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Yevgeny Smirnov, another member of Safronov’s legal team, said the case had a “huge chilling effect” on journalists in Russia, particularly those covering the defense and military-industrial complex, and that Mr. Safrono’s defense team will appeal, he said. .
Mr. Smirnov, apart from the defense team trying to send a message to Russian journalists, has accused Mr. He said he believed the government was seeking revenge against Safrono. In 2019 Mr. Soon after Safronov published an article about the $2 billion deal, the US threatened Sanctions should be imposed on Cairo.
Mr. Smirnov and Mr. Both Pavlov and Mr. They left Russia in 2021 after being implicated in the Safronov case. A third lawyer, Dmitry Talantov, was arrested in June and charged with spreading false information about the Russian military.
At the end of 2020, President Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. He said Safronov’s case had nothing to do with his journalistic work and that no one could be charged with treason for using publicly available information.
“It cannot be allowed,” he said.
A Russian human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov, Mr. Safronov said there was no precedent for such a harsh sentence on a charge like this, adding that it was “a barbaric, brutally cruel punishment similar to the current situation in Russia”.
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