MOSCOW -- Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, who was arrested in Moscow on June 6 on suspicion of selling narcotics, has been ordered confined to house arrest pending his trial.
A Moscow court on June 8 sanctioned Golunov's arrest and rejected a request from prosecutors that he be held in a remand prison.
He faces charges of the attempted "large-scale" distribution of illegal drugs and could face a prison term of 10 to 20 years if convicted.
Golunov maintains his innocence and says the accusations against him have been trumped up as punishment for his reporting on corruption among high-level Russian officials.
Nikulino district court Judge Mikhail Maksimov ordered that Golunov remain under house arrest until August 7.
Golunov was released from custody immediately and allowed to leave the courtroom.
The 36-year-old reporter for the Latvia-based independent Meduza news site was detained by police in downtown Moscow on June 6. Authorities said they found packets of the designer drug mephedrone in his backpack.
In a statement on June 7, Moscow police said a later search of Golunov's apartment turned up more drugs and some scales.
Dmitry Dzhulai, Golunov's lawyer, said he believed police had planted the drugs on his client to frame him.
He said Golunov had been beaten and that police had refused to take swabs from his hands or the backpack to see if the journalist had been in contact with drugs.
Chikov said a doctor who treated Golunov feared he may have broken ribs, a concussion, and a hematoma.
Golunov was taken to a hospital for a medical examination on June 8 after complaining that he felt poorly. After about two hours at the hospital, he was returned to the courtroom.
Golunov has investigated high-level corruption among Moscow officials, and Meduza says it believes the case is linked to his work.
Earlier on June 8 outside the Moscow court, several journalists held up placards with slogans including, "I am the journalist Ivan Golunov. Arrest me too".
On June 7, hundreds of people protested outside the Moscow police headquarters building, taking turns to stand in front of the building and hold signs, one by one, to protest Golunov's arrest. Police briefly detained 11 people, many of them prominent journalists, even though individual pickets are legal in Russia.
Smaller protests were held in other cities across Russia on June 7 and June 8.
Meduza General Director Galina Timchenko and Editor in Chief Ivan Kolpakov issued a statement on June 7 demanding Golunov's release.
"We are confident that Ivan Golunov is not guilty," the Meduza statement said. "Moreover, we have every reason to believe that Golunov was targeted because of his journalistic activities. We know that in recent months he received threats. We know the reasons why he was threatened, and we have an idea from whom the threats came."
It adds that Meduza "will defend its journalist by all possible means."
Russia opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny said he has "no doubt" that Golunov's detention was politically motivated.
Navalny said it was an attempt by Moscow authorities to silence the journalist ahead of regional elections in September.
Reporters Without Borders warned that Golunov's arrest could mark "a significant escalation in the persecution" of independent journalists in Russia.
The director of Amnesty International’s office in Russia also expressed concern.
“The circumstances of Ivan Golunov's detention sound dubious and follow a depressingly familiar pattern.... Everything indicates that the authorities are planting drugs on their targets to shut them up with a jail sentence," said Natalia Zviagina.
With reporting by AFP