‘We are Ivan Golunov’ – Russian Media Defends Its Own Against Wrongful Imprisonment
By Stephen Fortuna
Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was on his way to meet a source for his latest article on June 6 when he was detained by the police. They took him into custody after finding mephedrone, an illegal designer drug, in his backpack. When Golunov appeared in court two days later, his charges had increased from drug possession to drug trafficking, potentially a 10- to 20-year sentence, after the court accused him of having a drug lab in his apartment (Hodge, Nathan). Some, however, weren’t buying it. None of Golunov’s friends had ever as much as seen him drink alcohol, let alone get high, and people familiar with his apartment confirmed that the pictures authorities had shared of the drug lab couldn’t be anywhere near it (Kovalev, Alexey).
Golunov had been exposing corruption in Moscow for years. To escape the threat of Russian censorship, he had moved from one publication to the next before settling in at Meduza, a Latvia-based independent news outlet. His colleagues at Meduza and dozens of other journalists following the case doubled down in their claims that officials were falsely accusing Golunov in retaliation for his reporting. Golunov’s investigations have connected government officials with scandal in the funeral industry, pointed out major mismanagements of public works projects, and presented detailed evidence of city fund embezzlements (“Support Ivan…”).
A recent survey showed that almost two-thirds of Russians believe police “commonly” plant drugs in order to make unjust arrests – a belief that inspired at least 100 trade union journalists to organize a clever protest against police treatment of Golunov (Дело Ивана). By setting up one-man picket stations 50 meters apart from each other in front of the Internal Affairs Ministry office, lines of patient protesters protested in turns, exploiting a loophole that allowed them to organize without a permit (Lozovsky, Ilya).
Public outcry reached a fever-pitch on social media days after the arrest, causing the name “Ivan Golunov” to appear across more than 164,000 posts, trumping even Vladimir Putin’s social reach on the day of a major economic conference with China, where he had hoped to make headlines (Who Dominated…). Instead, in a show of solidarity with Golunov, three of Russia’s newspapers printed the exact same story on their respective front pages on Monday, June 10: “I / We Are Ivan Golunov” (We Are…).
The next day, due to “lack of evidence”, the court dropped all charges against Golunov and released him from house arrest (Pravda.ru). Putin is reported to have been personally involved in ordering his release. In the month following, at least five officers involved in Golunov’s arrest have been fired. Although Russia’s independent journalists still have a long way to go before achieving true freedom from government intimidation, the power of the press in Ivan Golunov’s case could signal a shift in the way the Kremlin will handle its media opponents in the future. Russia is currently ranked 149th out of 180 countries for press freedom, according to an annual index published by international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (The Moscow Times).
Hodge, Nathan, and Mary Ilyushina. “How the Backlash to a Journalist’s Arrest Blindsided the Kremlin.” CNN. June 11, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/11/europe/ivan-golunov-arrest-russia-intl/index.html.
Kovalev, Alexey. “Russian Officials Tried to Frame Ivan Golunov. Instead They Made Him a Hero | Alexey Kovalev.” The Guardian. June 11, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/11/russian-officials-ivan-golunov-investigative-journalist.
Lozovsky, Ilya. “A Russian Journalist Was Detained. Then Others Stood up to save Him.” The Washington Post. June 10, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/06/10/russian-journalist-was-detained-then-others-stood-up-save-him/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fca4eb301423.
Pravda.Ru. “Journalist Ivan Golunov Has Been Released, Police Officers Have Been Arrested.” PravdaReport. June 11, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. http://www.pravdareport.com/news/russia/142464-golunov/.
The Moscow Times. “Russia Drops to 149th out of 180 Countries in World Press Freedom Index.” The Moscow Times. July 12, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/04/18/russia-drops-to-149th-out-of-180-countries-in-world-press-freedom-index-a65287.
“Support Ivan Golunov by Republishing His Work We’ve Released Ivan Golunov’s Writing for ‘Meduza’ under a Creative Commons License.” Meduza. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://meduza.io/en/feature/2019/06/09/support-ivan-golunov-by-republishing-his-work.
“‘We Are Ivan Golunov’: Russian Journalist Arrest Sparks Solidarity, Awareness.” Public Radio International. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-06-10/we-are-ivan-golunov-russian-journalist-arrest-sparks-solidarity-awareness.
“Who Dominated Russian Social Media Sites on June 8?” Meduza. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://meduza.io/en/short/2019/06/09/who-dominated-russian-social-media-sites-on-june-8.
“”Дело Ивана Голунова”.” “Дело Ивана Голунова” –. July 09, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019. https://www.levada.ru/2019/07/09/delo-ivana-golunova/.