Russian journalist freed after police abruptly drop charges

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Russia's leading newspapers (L to R) RBK, Kommersant and Vedomosti, which published the same front page in support of detained journalist Ivan Golunov, are pictured in Moscow, Russia June 10, 2019. (REUTERS)
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A man looks at a computer screen displaying a photo of journalist Ivan Golunov, Moscow, June 7, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2019

Russian journalist freed after police abruptly drop charges

  • “The group of journalists we have gathered together in recent days will continue working, and now, they will be working together with Ivan himself,” the statement said

MOSCOW: In a stunning turnaround, Russian authorities Tuesday abruptly dropped all charges against a prominent investigative reporter after a public and media outcry over his arrest, and they promised to go after the police who allegedly tried to frame him as a drug dealer.
The release of Ivan Golunov marked an extremely rare case of security officials admitting a mistake. It also highlighted the difficulties that Russian journalists routinely face when reporting on sensitive topics like graft, corruption and President Vladimir Putin’s personal life.
The 36-year-old Golunov was stopped Thursday by police on a Moscow street and taken into custody, where his defense team said he was beaten and denied a lawyer for more than 12 hours. The journalist, who works for the independent website Meduza, had been facing drug charges that could put him in prison for up to 20 years.
Supporters mounted a nationwide campaign on his behalf, with journalists and others picketing Moscow police headquarters for five days. More than 20,000 people signed an online pledge to march in the capital on Wednesday, a public holiday, to protest Golunov’s arrest.
But Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev surprised the nation when he announced that all charges against Golunov were dropped after police found “no proof of his part in a crime.”
“I believe that the rights of any citizen, whatever his professional affiliation, ought to be protected,” the minister said, adding that he will ask Putin to dismiss two police generals, including the drug chief of the Moscow police, and suspend the officers who detained Golunov.
Speaking outside police headquarters, a shy and shocked-looking Golunov said he still couldn’t believe he was cleared so quickly.
“I will keep doing investigations to justify the trust of all those who supported me,” he said.
He added that he hopes the police will stop trying to frame innocent people, adding: “I hope it will not happen to anyone else in our country.”
In an unusual broadcast, his release was shown live on a state-controlled 24-hour news channel.
Judicial statistics indicate that the chances for criminal charges to be dropped or an acquittal once a person is in custody are extremely slim. When it does happen, authorities tend to avoid taking any blame.
“When the authorities admit their mistakes, admit the mistakes of the law enforcement officials and correct them, that’s very good because it shows that the government is reasonable,” Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the influential Ekho Moskvy radio station, told the Interfax news agency.
It is not yet clear if the police reversal represented a turning point for the many Russian journalists who are routinely attacked or face government pressure for their work. Many of them say they don’t feel safe to operate and report freely.
“We have put the pressure on the system and it worked this time,” said Pavel Kanygin, investigative reporter at Novaya Gazeta. “But it really is impossible to work in this environment.”
The circumstances of Golunov’s detention alarmed others in the media. In an apparent attempt to portray him as a professional drug dealer, police on Friday released several photos, reportedly from his home, of what appeared to be a drug lab. They later retracted the statement, saying that the photos were taken elsewhere.
In a separate statement later, the police said they found cocaine at Golunov’s home. A judge put him under house arrest Saturday following a public outcry of support, including from high-profile journalists working for state-owned media.
Many Russian journalists have to tread carefully in their work, especially when reporting about Putin and his family. But since Golunov’s work mostly focused on Moscow City Hall and the city’s crime-ridden funeral industry, the case raised questions about a possible shift in where the red lines are drawn in Russian journalism.
Award-winning journalist Roman Badanin was ousted from three major editorial positions between 2011 and 2016 after the media outlets under his leadership touched on topics believed to be too sensitive for the Kremlin.
Three top editors at the business newspaper RBC, including Badanin, were ousted in 2016 after reporting on Putin’s inner circle, including an investigative piece about an oyster farm near a mansion that a whistleblower has described as “Putin’s palace.”
To Badanin, the crackdown on Golunov stands out because it lower-level decision-makers, rather than the Kremlin or government-connected tycoons, were likely behind it.
“Ivan’s case tells us that now violence or unlawful actions against journalists can be applied at a lower level, not just by the Kremlin,” he told The Associated Press.
In act of journalistic solidarity not seen for at least 15 years, RBC and two other major papers, Kommersant and Vedomosti, published identical front pages on Monday with the headline “I am/We are Ivan Golunov,” and called for a transparent investigation of his case. The newspapers all had first-hand experience of government pressure and indirect censorship.
The solidarity surprisingly extended to tightly controlled state TV channels, with some commentators referring to Golunov as “a colleague” and questioning the police evidence.
Rights activists have long complained of police abusing their powers and planting drugs on innocent people. About 130,000, or nearly a third of the country’s prison population, were convicted on drug-related charges.
Golunov’s release prompted several prominent officials, including close Putin ally Alexei Kudrin, to call for a review of how drug charges are used and abused.
In a joint statement, the CEO and editor in chief of Meduza, along with Golunov’s lawyer and two other prominent journalists, pledged to investigate the police officials responsible for the arrest.
“The group of journalists we have gathered together in recent days will continue working, and now, they will be working together with Ivan himself,” the statement said. “This is only the beginning. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us if we are to ensure that what happened here will never happen again to anybody.”


Arab News Japanese edition to launch in October

Updated 16 September 2019

Arab News Japanese edition to launch in October

  • Digital news service to be available in English and Japanese
  • Launch to coincide with Emperor enthronement ceremony

TOKYO: Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English language daily, is to launch a Japanese-language online edition as part of its ongoing global expansion.

The international edition will be the second under the Arab News brand, following the highly successful launch of the Pakistani edition. 

As a symbol of the cordial business, trading and cultural relations between the Kingdom and Japan, arabnews.jp will commence coverage to coincide with the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito next month. It will be a 24-hour rolling news website comprising original material generated in Tokyo and translations of Arab News’ award-winning English content.

Faisal J. Abbas, Arab News editor-in-chief, announced the project at the G1 Global conference in Tokyo on Monday, September 16.

The Japanese edition will be the second under the Arab News brand.

He said: ““As part of our more digital, more global direction; we are delighted to announce the launch of Arab News Japan. The news site will be available in both English and Japanese, with a content mix that blends original reporting from both the Middle East and Japan as well as a translated feed of some of our most important news and views. 

“We are also honored to coincide our launch with our coverage of the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito. We hope that our new service arabnews.jp helps bring a better mutual understanding of both our rich cultures and become a trusted communication channel where our friends in japan can rely on us for credible information and insightful analysis,” he added.

Japan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important economic partners. A major part of Japan’s energy imports come from Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom imports manufactured goods and electronic equipment from Japan, and is a significant destination for Japanese financial investment.

Saudi Arabia officials are working with their Japanese counterparts on the formal handover for the G20 leaders’ summit, which will take place in the Kingdom next year, following the highly success event held in Osaka, Japan, in June.

 

 

At that event, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe that Japan was a country dear to the hearts of all Saudis. “We will work together to prepare for the G20 summit 2020 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Crown Prince said.

The prime minister praised the Kingdom’s progress in accordance with the Vision 2030 strategy and pointed to the keenness of the government of Japan and its readiness through public and private sectors to make further efforts and cooperation with the Kingdom.

Arab News is part of the regional publishing group Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG). It has been the English newspaper of record for Saudi Arabia and the region for over 40 years.