Arrest of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov marks turning point in Russian society

I and we are (all) Ivan Golunov. Banner provided by Meduza, used with permission

Точка кипения: this Russian expression meaning boiling point—the point when enough has become enough—is perhaps the best way to convey how an increasing number of Russians feel about the arrest of Ivan Golunov. Golunov, a leading investigative journalist, was detained on June 6 in Moscow on what appear to be trumped-up charges of drug dealing and possession.

Golunov was arrested and initially denied access to a lawyer, in violation of Russian law. His lawyer confirmed he sustained serious injuries while in custody. After being taken to hospital, he was discharged and placed under house arrest on June 8.

The Russian police initially produced photos of a drug lab allegedly found when they searched in Golunov’s flat, but the images were later retracted. The pro-Kremlin media outlet Russia Today also confirmed that the pictures were not taken in Golunov’s flat. The charges being leveled against Golunov could lead to a 10 to 20-year prison sentence.

Thirty-six-year-old Golunov works for Meduza, one of the few remaining independent Russian-language online media platforms. Meduza is registered in neighboring Latvia, but maintains an office and several journalists in Moscow. Golunov has led and published several investigations pointing at cases of corruption involving high-ranking officials.

Since Golunov’s arrest, Meduza has released Golunov’s articles under a Creative Commons license and has encouraged media outlets and individuals to republish the stories, an initiative fully supported by Global Voices. Among his most important reports are ones detailing how Moscow’s deputy mayor Pyotr Biryukov channeled state contracts to his family, and how Moscow's urban beautification program involved inflated budgets. The story he was working on just before his detention focused on the monopoly of funeral services in Moscow.

Golunov's arrest has sparked a rare expression of solidarity among not only journalists, activists and lawyers, but also actors, popular singers, and figures from outside the liberal circles of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. On June 10, three leading newspapers agreed to publish editions with identical front pages in support of Golunov. The newspapers were sold out in record time. In a rather ironic u-turn, pro-Kremlin media, including Channel One, Russia’s most-viewed TV channel, are also calling for a fair investigation.

June 12 marks Russia Day, when public marches and demonstrations approved by local authorities will take place. Under Russian law, public demonstrations require a permit. Golunov’s supporters have announced they will hold their own march without obtaining official permission.

Kremlin observers say the Russian government is seeking to lift the charges against the journalist before June 20. On that day, President Vladimir Putin, whose ratings have fallen to a historical low in the country, will host the Direct Line, his annual talk show where he takes questions from citizens by telephone and online media.

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