Russian Federation drops charges against journalist Golunov, suspends arresting officers

“I  We are Ivan Golunov,” the front pages of the Kommersant RBC and Vedomosti newspapers declared

“I We are Ivan Golunov,” the front pages of the Kommersant RBC and Vedomosti newspapers declared Credit Yuri Kadobnov AFP

Russian police on Tuesday abruptly dropped drugs charges against journalist Ivan Golunov, a rare U-turn by the authorities in the face of anger from his supporters who alleged he was framed for his reporting and threatened to stage a mass protest in Moscow.

The reporter for the Latvia-based Russian news site Meduza would be released from house arrest on Tuesday, he added.

He faced 20 years in prison if convicted on the drug manufacturing and supply charges for which he had been arrested.

The unexpected move came after an unprecedented display of support from Russian journalists and cultural figures.

On June 6, Ivan Golunov, who works for the Meduza news website, was hauled off in downtown Moscow and taken to a local police station on charges of illegally producing, selling and transporting drugs.

In what some supporters saw as a small victory, a court on Saturday rejected a request to hold Mr. Golunov in a pretrial detention facility and ordered instead that he be held under house arrest for two months while he is investigated.

"I believe that the rights of every citizen must be protected regardless of his or her profession", the interior ministry pointed out.

Before the police backed down, almost 25,000 people had signed up to a Facebook page expressing their intention to take part in a protest march on Wednesday in solidarity with Golunov.

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The march presented the Kremlin with a quandary: either use force to break up the protest, and risk provoking more anger, or stand aside and let the protest take place, which risked revealing weakness to the Kremlin's opponents. "This is either unprofessionalism, recklessness or a provocation".

Valentina Matviyenko, who is Russia's third most senior official after the president and prime minister, said that the law enforcement agencies' "mistakes and violations ... have given rise to distrust in the investigation".

"Yipee! The criminal case against Golunov has been dropped". Previous tests failed to reveal traces of drugs in either the journalist's urine or on his fingers.

Police said they had found packets of mephedrone among his things, as well as cocaine and a set of scales in his apartment.

Police described the incident as "a small mix-up".

Golunov's lawyer Dmitry Dzhulai said earlier that drugs could have been planted on his client.

"The extremely unusual behaviour of the police suggests that Ivan Golunov has been arrested on a trumped-up charge", Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, told Al Jazeera.

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