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Russian Journalist Faces Tougher Jail Conditions After Article Published


Ivan Safronov attends a court hearing in Moscow on June 30.

MOSCOW -- Jailed former Russian journalist Ivan Safronov, who is charged with high treason, is facing even tougher conditions in detention after his article criticizing the authorities for their treatment of suspects and methods used in investigating espionage amid a wave of cases aimed at muzzling dissent was published.

Safronov's lawyer said on Telegram on August 9 that after the Vedomosti newspaper published his article in July, guards at the detention center in Moscow moved him to another cell next to what is called in Russia's penitentiary system "a punitive isolation cell."

The new cell "is known for additional security restrictions -- there is an additional metal bar at the door and an alarm system at the window. Searches became routine and the jail administration keeps urging him to avoid doing stupid things without saying what they mean by that," Safronov's lawyer wrote.

Safronov, a former adviser to the head of the space agency Roskosmos and journalist who has been charged with leaking classified data, published an article in the Vedomosti newspaper on July 23 outlining how investigators deprive individuals arrested and charged with high treason and espionage of any opportunity to defend themselves.

After several hours online, the article became inaccessible. The Meduza news website also reported an outage of its site after carrying excerpts of the article.

In the article, Safronov said cases were being fabricated in Russia against ordinary people because catching real spies is much harder.

He said charges are made against someone as a method of intimidation instead of being based on facts.

State-appointed lawyers who rarely defend their clients are then brought in to do everything to persuade the accused to plead guilty and make a deal with investigators, while the courts exacerbate the situation by sending "scared and confused" suspects to detention centers.

Safronov was arrested on July 7, 2020, on allegations that he had passed secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East.

Safronov, who at the time of his arrest had moved on from journalism to his job with Roskosmos, has rejected the accusations against him and many of his supporters have held pickets demanding his release.

His defense team says that investigators never revealed when and to whom Safronov had allegedly passed the classified information or what it contained. All case materials have been deemed classified as part of the coverup, they say.

One of Safronov's defenders, lawyer Ivan Pavlov, himself has since become a suspect in a separate criminal case on the disclosure of data with regard to his client's case.

Russian authorities have launched a massive crackdown on dissent in recent months, jailing dozens of opposition members, activists, and regular citizens under the guise of charged widely considered to be falsified.

Treason charges against Russian men and women, especially researchers and scientists, have become common as a way of sending a message through the academic community, critics of the government and rights activists say.

Safronov said in his article that the launch of a probe is just the beginning of the ordeal. Suspects are then pressured to testify against others in exchange for favors ranging from a pretrial deal to phone calls to relatives or friends.

Human rights organizations have issued statements demanding Safronov's release and expressing concern over the intensifying crackdown on dissent in Russia.

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