Russia Monthly Digest: Golunov Arrested and Freed, and Russia Rejoins PACE5 min read

 In News, Politics, Russia

– On the 6th of June, reporter Ivan Golunov was searched on the streets of Moscow by police, who allegedly then found on his person several bags of white powder (said to be mephedrone) and arrested Golunov for intent to supply. Golunov denied the charges and said that the drugs had been planted on him – he also accused the police of assaulting him in custody and denying him access to a lawyer. It took an investigator 14 hours to publicly announce that Golunov was in custody. Many believed, upon announcement of his arrest, that Golunov had been targeted due to his investigative reporting on issues such as high-level corruption. Golunov’s reporting has covered, among others, the real estate fortunes of the family of Moscow’s deputy mayor, and the Kremlin’s plans to ship Moscow’s waste to the regions of Russia. 

Over the next few days, the police investigator’s case against Golunov became particularly flimsy, with DNA and fingerprint tests failing to detect any traces of Golunov on the drugs allegedly found on him, or the drugs reportedly found later at his flat in Moscow. Urine tests taken from Golunov in while custody tested negative for recent drug use. Photos released by police showing a drug lab were deleted from their website a few days later; the photos in question were of a completely different location and bore no relation to Golunov or his arrest. A police spokesperson said the false photo was due to a “small mix-up”. On the 8th of June, Golunov was transferred to house arrest, which many saw as a victory against the police.

Although not a household name at the time of his arrest, the investigative journalist, who has reported on issues ranging from corruption to gang wars, quickly became a symbol and a rallying call for Russians to gather around. A campaign spearheaded by Meduza, named “I am/We are Ivan Golunov” was picked up by Russian social media users, and three major newspapers – Kommersant, RBK and Vedomosti – which are often pro-Kremlin, printed the phrase on their front page. Russian singer Zemfira devoted her website to the cause, writing “Free Ivan Golunov”, along with Russian rock group Time Machine, who were pulled from a concert due to take place on the 12th of June in Red Square. The head of Meduza, Ivan Kolpakov, said that the outcry represented the willingness of Russians to speak up for their rights and showed that the younger generations were becoming more politically active than ever. 

On the 11th of June, Golunov was released from custody and the charges against him dropped. Photos of the journalist reunited with his dog Margo quickly circulated around the internet, and he spoke outside the interior ministry’s headquarters where he had formally been cleared of all charges. “I hope that this experience will change the way things work, and I hope that this situation won’t happen again to anyone else in this country”. 

More than 20,000 people marched in Moscow the day after Golunov’s release, with the march passing by FSB headquarters and ending outside the interior ministry. Originally intended to be a march in favour of freeing Golunov, the theme changed to criticising the police and calling for those in power who had authorised his arrest to be sacked. Often, unauthorised protests in Russia are quickly broken up by the police, and this situation was no different. Hundreds of people were arrested, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

– On the 17th of June, 19-year-old Darya Ageni launched a petition on Instagram calling for clarification on the law of self-defence when being sexually assaulted. Using the hashtag #notherfault, Ageni started the petition in response to her facing criminal prosecution for stabbing a man in the abdomen when he attempted to rape her. The police have not opened a case against the man. Ageni’s petition has gathered around 27,000 signatures on, and continues to attract signatories. Speaking to Novaya Gazetta, a Russian news outlet, she said “I understood that something needs to be done. I thought that I have a great opportunity to draw attention to this issue… victims do not speak out about abuse because… society disapproves of them and condemns them. And because they are scared of the police… Abuse is abuse, even if it is done by your partner.” You can read more about Ageni’s petition here (Russian):

– Three Russian men and one from Ukraine are to face charges of murder over the downed flight MH17, it was announced on the 19th of June. The passenger plane, run by Malaysian Airlines, was shot down around five years ago over Ukraine; all 298 people onboard were killed. All the suspects were or currently are high-ranking military figures in either the FSB (Russia’s internal security service) or the GRU (Russia’s military agency). Although the men are not to have physically “pushed the button” on the attack, they are allegedely the reason the anti-aircraft equipment was in Ukraine in the first place and can therefore be prosecuted and issued arrest warrants internationally. However, as the three Russian men currently live within the Russian Federation, it is unlikely that they will face prosecution in court as Russia refuses to extradite its nationals. 

– On the 25th of June, Russia was reinstated to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a move which outraged the Ukrainian delegation to the point of walking out. Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, called the move “disappointing”, after trying to convince President of France Emmanual Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel to veto Russia’s reinstatement into the Assembly. This is the first major punishment to have been reversed against Russia since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. 118 parliamentary deputies agreed to allow Russia back into the Assembly, and Merkel and Macron both said that it was better to have Russia at the table to “promote dialogue, even if issues are not agreed on”. However, the reinstatement allows Russia to vote on the new secretary-general of the Council of Europe. PACE is responsible for upholding human rights, democracy, and the rule of law within Europe.

Main sources: BBC (EN), France 24 (EN), Meduza (RU), RFL/RE (EN),  The Guardian (EN), The Moscow Times (EN)

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