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Drug charges against Russian investigative journalist dropped after backlash, protests


Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov carries his dog as he leaves an Investigative Committee building in Moscow. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

After the arrest of an investigative journalist in Moscow drew heavy backlash, the Russian government dropped all charges against the reporter Tuesday.

Ivan Golunov, 36, had said police planted the drugs and beat him while he was in custody. Golunov, a reporter at the online newspaper Meduza, covers Russian government corruption.

Following the arrest Thursday, Russian media rallied behind Golunov. Three newspapers published front-page headlines that said “I am/We are Ivan Golunov.” And supporters planned a march Wednesday in Moscow to protest the arrest.

Russian Internal Affairs Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said in a statement Tuesday that the charges would be dropped and Golunov would be freed from house arrest.

“The results of biological, criminal, fingerprinting, and genetic testing have led to a decision to cease the criminal prosecution of the civilian Ivan Golunov due to a lack of evidence that he took part in committing a crime," Kolokoltsev said in a statement in Russian translated by Meduza.

The statement also said the police officers involved with the arrest would be suspended and their actions investigated.

Many wondered whether the reversal marked a shift for Russia, which is often accused of trumping up dubious charges for political reasons.

“We have put the pressure on the system and it worked," said Pavel Kanygin, an investigative reporter at the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, according to the AP. “But it really is impossible to work in this environment.”

The independent watchdog Freedom House gives Russia a press freedom score of 83, with 100 being “least free.” The country is listed as “Not Free” by the rating, last updated in 2017.

Russian journalists celebrated Golunov’s release. Meduza described the news as a “cause for celebration” in a statement.

“This is the result of an unprecedented international solidarity campaign among both journalists and their allies,” Meduza said in the statement. “Together, we made the unbelievable happen: we stopped the criminal prosecution of an innocent man.”

Protesters still marched in Moscow on Wednesday against the treatment of Golunov, and police arrested more than 400 people, according to Reuters.