Yesterday, police in central Moscow detained Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter at Meduza, a prominent online media outlet. They stopped him on the street and claimed to have found synthetic drugs in his backpack, and then more drugs at his apartment. Golunov’s friends and colleagues are adamant that his arrest is directly connected to his reporting. They also emphasize that he has never used any narcotic substances.

Photograph of Ivan Golunov from his Instagram, with permission from Meduza.

© Ivan Golunov/Instagram

Meduza reported that police did not allow Golunov to call an attorney, and that no lawyer was present when police searched him and his apartment. His colleagues learned of his arrest only 14 hours later, when the case investigator called a friend of Golunov’s, also a journalist, and told her Golunov was in custody on suspicion of drug possession. Golunov alleges he has been beaten and mistreated by police. Police also declined a request to test his palms and fingernail clippings for presence of narcotics.

Golonov is one of Meduza’s star reporters, covering allegations of high-level corruption and important public interest issues, like predatory lending or efforts to dump Moscow’s trash in other regions. In a statement published today, Meduza’s chief editor said Golunov had received threats regarding an as yet unpublished article and that “we can guess who the threats came from.” Russia’s prosecutor general and several other high level officials told the press they were not aware of Golonov’s arrest.

Next Monday, June 10, a court in Chechnya will review a parole request by Oyub Titiev, the head of the Grozny office at Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights organization. Titiev, who is currently serving a four-year sentence, was arrested in January 2018 after police planted a bag of marijuana in his car. In the months before his arrest, Tititev was investigating serious human rights abuses by Chechnya’s security forces. By jailing Titiev, Chechen authorities clearly hoped to stifle Memorial’s reporting.

Pressing drug charges against inconvenient voices is nothing new in today’s Russia. But Golunov’s case is the first time it’s been done to a journalist from a high-profile media outlet. “If they get away with doing this to Ivan, it’ll pave the way for doing it to many others,” a reporter from another independent publication told me. I couldn’t agree more.

Golunov’s pretrial detention hearing is scheduled for Saturday, June 8. On Friday afternoon, many journalists stood near the Chief Department of the Interior Ministry to stage individual protests in his support. By 5 p.m., police had arbitrarily detained at least ten of them.