Posted on Jul 18, 2020
Former investigative journalist Ivan Safronov, since May of this year communications advisor to the head of Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos, is currently languishing in a Moscow jail having been arrested on what appear to be trumped-up charges of treason.
Arrested on July 7th, Safronov was formally charged on the 13th. His defence team have already come under pressure from the Moscow City Court, with one member, Daniil Nikiforov, having been removed from court having refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement, according to RIA Novosti.
Another lawyer, Dmitry Katchev, who previously defended Safronov in a defamation case, arrived at Safronov’s home while Federal Security (FSB) agents were still inside "conducting a search". Agents refused to let Katchev inside, instead serving him with a summons for questioning as a witness in the case, telling him that this revoked his right to represent Safronov’s legal interests (this ruling was subsequently overturned by the Lefortovo District Court).
According to state investigators, Ivan Safronov had passed classified information to Czech intelligence in 2017. Safronov, who as a former accredited member of the Kremlin press pool would have undergone high-level security screening, maintains that he is not guilty.
He went through a vetting procedure again before taking up his position with Roscosmos, a process that reportedly took one month.
His lawyers are insisting that the case is linked to his past work as a journalist: there is some speculation that the charges are a response to an article that appeared in March 2019 in Kommersant concerning Russia supplying Egypt with Su-35 fighter jets. Lawyers state that his case files do not contain any justification for his detention, or evidence of his guilt.
At the request of the FSB, Safronov's trial will be conducted in secrecy: neither journalists nor members of the public will be allowed to witness this parody of a legal process.
The Russian Journalists’ Union held a peaceful vigil outside Moscow’s Lefortovo Pretrial Detention Centre, where Safronov is currently being held: at least 19 were arrested.
I think that the trial for Ivan Safronov’s case should be public. It seems to me that journalists should be afraid. Because if we lose freedom of speech, which we are losing every day, each of us could end up in Ivan’s place.
Safronov covered Russia’s military-industrial complex for the country’s top business newspapers, Vedomosti and Kommersant, for nearly a decade.
This fact is somewhat ironic, as his father, also named Ivan, reported on the same subject. On March 2nd 2007 he died under highly suspicious circumstances.
The death of Ivan Safronov Sr.
In December 2006 Safronov, a 51-year old journalist, defence correspondent for the newspaper Kommersant, published a damning report on the failures of the Russian Bulava Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, one of Vladimir Putin's showcase projects.
He revealed the continual failures of the system during test launches. Bulava was hailed by Vladimir Putin as the next generation in nuclear weaponry. Safronov was also known to be investigating the possibility that Russia was planning to sell arms to Syria, through a third party in order to avoid allegations of dealing with rogue states.
He was duly questioned by the FSB. Subsequently he told colleagues he had been warned that the FSB would press charges of revealing state secrets against him.
There would be no charges, however, as on March 2nd 2007, Safronov fell to his death from the 5th floor of his apartment building.
He lived on the 3rd floor, and his hat and items of food that he had just bought were scattered on the stairs between there and the 5th floor.
He was alive when he was found on the pavement, but emergency services refused to respond to calls for help; an ambulance arrived on the scene only after he had died. A verdict of suicide was returned by the coroner.
Falling from high windows is the FSB's trademark. Whilst the Russian state will always deny culpability, the modus operandi is intended to be distinctive so as to send out a message of warning to dissenters at home, and of defiance to foreign states on whose territory they often carry out their murders.
Victims include journalists, lawyers, and shady property developers.
And so he has two highly sensitive cases in which he represents interests opposed to the Putin regime. And then all of a sudden, he falls out of his apartment. I don't think it's an accident... Valdimir Putin has no morals, he is ready to do anything to stay in power and to continue to loot the state for his own personal benefit and the benefit of those people around him. And so they will kill. And they prefer killing in a plausibly deniable way.
Most recently, doctors who are outspokenly critical of Russia's botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been plummeting to their deaths.
The delay in the arrival of an ambulance at the scene of Safronov Sr's death was to be echoed in the events surrounding the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov outside the walls of the Kremlin in February 2015, when ambulances failed to arrive for some time.
In an area usually heavily patrolled by police, none were to be found. All the security cameras in the area were switched off for maintenance except for one, which had been blocked by a municipal vehicle.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in June 2019 issued a comprehensive and damning report on the matter.
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