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MOSCOW -- A judge on Saturday placed Russian reporter Ivan Golunov under house arrest for two months, denying prosecutors' efforts to jail him after journalists in Russia mounted an intense campaign to protest the detention of one of their own.

The judge's ruling means that Golunov, a prominent investigative journalist who maintains his innocence, continues to face drug charges and a sentence of more than 10 years in prison. But the unusual move by Russia's tightly controlled court system to place Golunov under house arrest -- rather than pretrial detention, as prosecutors sought -- illustrated the underlying tensions in what has quickly become one of Russia's most high-profile press freedom cases in years.

Golunov -- whose investigations uncovered apparent corruption in the Moscow City mayor's office, in the funeral business and elsewhere -- and his news outlet, "Meduza," say that the police planted drugs on Golunov to punish him for his work.

He was detained Thursday and said he'd been beaten in custody, a charge police have denied. Russian journalists have rallied to Golunov's side, protesting for hours outside Moscow police headquarters and giving his case nonstop coverage online.

Saturday evening, after Judge Mikhail Maximov said Golunov would be released to house arrest, a crowd of hundreds of supporters outside the courthouse broke out in cheers.

Golunov was formally charged earlier Saturday with drug possession in Moscow and then taken to a hospital. He had a hematoma on his scalp, multiple abrasions on his chest, bruised ribs, and a suspected head injury and concussion, the ambulance doctor who transported Golunov told Russia's Interfax news agency.

The reports on Golunov's injuries further stoked anger among Russian journalists, and prominent entertainers rallied to the reporter's defense. While harassment and threats against Russian journalists are common, the detention of a prominent reporter in the capital appeared to represent a new level of intensity in the authorities' crackdown on the news media.

"I want to be proud of Russia," Russian rock legend Boris Grebenshchikov said in a video posted online calling for Golunov's release. "What is happening now is a shame and a disgrace."

Pavel Chikov, the head of human-rights group Agora whose lawyers were representing Golunov, said the work of defending him was just beginning.

"All signs point to this case having been ordered up from the high ranks," Chikov said in a post on instant-messaging platform Telegram. "And this case bears witness to the influence of the news media and of journalistic investigations today, as well as to the new risks that active citizens face."

The police claimed that they had found more than 3 grams of mephedrone in Golunov's backpack and more than 5 grams of cocaine in his apartment when officers detained him on Thursday. On Saturday, Golunov was charged with drug possession with intent to sell, meaning he faces more than 10 years in prison.

But the police case against Golunov appeared shaky. On Friday, the Moscow Police Department posted photographs on its website of a drug lab it said was inside Golunov's apartment. The department later removed those photographs and said they stemmed from a different case.

In a sign that the Golunov case could exacerbate tensions in the Russian elite, even some leading pro-Kremlin journalists cautiously voiced support for the detained reporter.

"For now, no indisputable fact has been publicized that shows Golunov to have been involved in selling drugs," Evgeny Popov, co-host of a state TV political talk show, wrote on Telegram. "This all looks like a setup."

A Section on 06/09/2019

Print Headline: Russian reporter put on house arrest


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