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Ex-Journalist Appeals Detention As Russian Media Demand Transparency In Treason Case

Ivan Safronov appears at a hearing at a court in Moscow on July 7.
Ivan Safronov appears at a hearing at a court in Moscow on July 7.

MOSCOW -- Lawyers for Ivan Safronov, a former reporter and adviser to the chief of Russian space agency Roskosmos, say they have appealed their client's pretrial arrest on a high-treason charge he rejects.

Yevgeny Smirnov and Ivan Pavlov said on July 8 that they asked the Moscow City Court to replace their client's pretrial detention with a milder restriction "not linked with incarceration."

Prosecutors accuse Safronov of passing information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about the sale of Russian arms to the Middle East and Africa. Safronov was working as a journalist at the time covering issues related to the activities of Russia's military-industrial sector.

Russia claims the United States was the final beneficiary of the information, according to Pavlov.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Pavlov told Ekho Moskvy on July 8 that he had refused to sign papers obliging him not to reveal data related to the investigation against his client, adding though that he had agreed to sign papers to not make classified information in the case public.

"But we have not seen any state-secret materials in the case, therefore there is nothing to reveal here," Pavlov said, adding that "there are no classified materials" in the case.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later in the day that Safronov's case was labeled as top secret and reiterated that the case was not linked to Safronov's journalistic activities in the past.

"There is a certain regime of hearings in the court for certain categories of cases, due to sensitivity [of such cases]. Therefore, it would be wrong to change regulations following opinions of some journalists [regarding Safronov's case]," Peskov said, responding to demands from activists for transparency during the probe.

Those demands were reinforced on July 8 when leading news outlets, including Kommersant, Vedomosti, Meduza, RBK, Proyekt, Mediazona, The Bell, Bumaga, and the Russian version of Forbes magazine, issued editorials supporting Safronov, who since May has been working as an adviser to the chief of the state space agency, Roskosmos.

Kommersant wrote that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) had eavesdropped on Safronov's telephone conversations and had access to his electronic correspondence.

Police in Moscow on July 7 searched the apartment of his close associate, journalist Taisia Bekbulatova, and questioned her as witness in the case.

Bekbulatova told the website Mediazona after the questioning that she could not give any details on the case, as she had signed papers agreeing not to reveal information related to it.

Safronov's arrest -- the latest in a series of law enforcement actions against Russian journalists and researchers -- has sparked outrage among former colleagues and prompted dozens to protest outside the FSB headquarters in Moscow.

Journalists Detained After Protesting In Support Of Former Colleague Charged With High Treason
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As a journalist, Safronov mainly covered issues related to the activities of Russia's military-industrial sector, including an accident last year on a nuclear submarine, and the country's military exercises.

His father also worked for Kommersant, also focusing mainly on the military-industrial complex, before dying at the age of 51 after he mysteriously fell out of a corridor window in his apartment block in Moscow in 2007. Police concluded the death was a suicide, though relatives and friends say they suspect foul play.

The younger Safronov was fired from Kommersant in May 2019 after writing an article about the possible resignation of Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the Russian parliament's upper chamber. Matviyenko continues to serve as its chairwoman.

Safronov's firing led to a crisis at the paper after all of the journalists in Kommersant's politics department resigned in protest. He soon joined Vedomosti, then Russia's leading business newspaper, before quitting following an ownership change that installed a Kremlin-friendly chief editor.

In June 2019, media reports surfaced saying that Kommersant might face administrative lawsuits for making state secrets public.

It was not clear which state secrets had been made public, but one of Safronov's articles about Russia's plans to deliver Su-35 military planes to Egypt was removed from the newspaper's website.

At the time, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo warned of possible sanctions against Egypt if Cairo purchased the planes from Moscow.

Kommersant Director-General Vladimir Zhelonkin told the Open Media group on July 7 that there were no issues with the authorities related to Safronov's article last year in his newspaper, adding that the article in question did not contain any data that might be classified as a state secret.

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