MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent Russian investigative journalist has been charged with drug dealing after four grams of a synthetic drug called mephedrone were found in his backpack, Moscow police said Friday.
Ivan Golunov, who works for the independent website Meduza, was stopped by police in central Moscow on Thursday afternoon. Police also said that more drugs were found at his home.
Meduza said in a statement on Friday that Golunov, one of the most prominent investigative journalists in Russia, was beaten while in detention and denied medical tests that would show he has not handled drugs. Moscow police denied the accusations of beating.
The journalist’s lawyer told the RIA Novosti news agency that his client was not allowed to contact his family or lawyer for 12 hours after he was detained.
Golunov, 36, has recently received threats linked to a story he was pursing, Meduza said.
“We are convinced that Ivan Golunov is innocent,” Meduza said in a statement.
“What’s more, we have reasons to believe that Golunov is being persecuted for his journalism. We know that Vanya (Golunov) has been receiving threats in recent months, and we know which particular unfinished story they relate to.”
Meduza was founded in 2014 by a group of journalists who left a popular Russian news website after their editor was fired. The website is based in Riga, Latvia, as the journalists fear that an increasing wave of media censorship and restrictive internet laws in Russia make any editorial office there vulnerable to government pressure. While most of Meduza’s staff is based in Riga, special correspondents like Golunov are working in Russia.
Moscow police attached nine photos to its statement about Golunov’s detention, some of which showed what appeared to be a makeshift drugs lab at his home.
Alexander Urzhanov, a friend, said he had been to Golunov’s place and that the pictures of the drugs lab were not taken at his apartment.
Golunov rose to prominence in recent years with his corruption investigations into Moscow’s city government and the crime-ridden funeral market.
Peers described Golunov as one of Russia’s most dogged investigative reporters.
“This is totally incredible and is not in his character that he would give up what he’s been doing and start making money in this way,” Alexander Baunov of the Moscow Carnegie Center told The Associated Press. Baunov has known Golunov since 2004 when they were worked together.