Russian Journalist Safronov Sentenced In New Blow To Press Freedom


MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has sentenced Ivan Safronov, a prominent former journalist, to 22 years in prison in a high-profile treason case highlighting the Kremlin's crackdown on the media.

The Moscow City Court sentenced Safronov on September 5 after finding him guilty of handing secret materials to foreign agents in a case that is widely considered to be politically motivated.

The verdict and sentence came the same day that several independent media outlets issued a statement demanding all charges against Safronov be dropped and the journalist be released. The statement was titled Journalism Is Not A Crime.

It also came the same day the Basmanny district court revoked the print license of the independent Novaya gazeta newspaper, which was founded in part with money from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Last week, the Russian investigative group Proyekt (Project) concluded that the treason charges against Safronov were "baseless." Proyekt said its conclusion was based on official accusation papers against Safronov that the group published on August 29.

Safronov has repeatedly denied accusations that he passed documents to Czech secret service agent Martin Laris about Russian arms sales in the Middle East in 2017, and of handing unspecified classified information to German secret service agent Demuri Voronin.

Safronov's supporters have held pickets in Moscow and other cities demanding his release.

Proyekt studied the accusation papers from investigators and concluded that they had not found a single Russian official who could have handed Safronov any materials or information that could be defined as classified.

Furthermore, Proyekt said it also could not find any evidence proving that Czech journalist Laris and German political analyst Voronin had any links to the secret services of the two European Union and NATO members.

Even if Laris and Voronin were secret service agents, there is no proof that Safronov could be aware of that, Proyekt said, adding that investigators failed to prove that Safronov had received money from the two named persons while the information mentioned by investigators as secret is publicly available online.

Safronov, who was arrested in July 2020, went on trial behind closed doors in early April.

The 32-year-old journalist, who covered the defense industry for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti, is also a former adviser to the head of Russia's space agency, Roskosmos.

Human rights organizations have issued statements demanding Safronov's release and expressing concerns over an intensifying crackdown on dissent in Russia.