Russian Former Journalist Jailed in Treason Case Amid Outcry

A Russian court jailed a former journalist who’s an adviser to the head of the country’s space agency on suspicion of treason in case that raised concerns about growing pressure on the media.

The Federal Security Service said Ivan Safronov was suspected of passing information on arms sales and other defense and security matters to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization country that it didn’t name, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Safronov, who had only worked at Roscosmos for a few months, denies any wrongdoing, according to a member of his legal team. Moscow’s Lefortovo Court, in a closed hearing, ordered him jailed until Sept. 6, according to his lawyer Sergei Badamshin, who said the ruling would be appealed. Safronov is to be formally charged Monday, he said.

Roscosmos said the charges aren’t related to his job there but it is cooperating with investigators. The case isn’t connected to Safronov’s journalistic work, “which stood out for its deep expertise,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, declining to provide further information.

Media Pressure

Major Russian media outlets, including Vedomosti and RBC, issued statements saying they don’t believe Safronov is guilty, denouncing his arrest as an effort to pressure journalists. His plight has drawn comparisons to a case last year in which a prominent investigative reporter was detained on drug charges. He was released after an outcry led police to admit the drugs were planted.

Safronov, who covered defense and military issues, left Kommersant in 2019 after a conflict with management over his refusal to disclose his sources for an article that drew the ire of the speaker of the upper house of parliament.

As a reporter, Safronov frequently broke news of weapons deals. The Bell, a Russian online news outlet, said Tuesday’s arrest may be linked to a story that Safronov wrote in 2019 that said Russia planned to sell advanced fighter jets to Egypt. U.S. officials reportedly threatened Egypt with sanctions over the purchase after the article.

Note: a previous version of this article was corrected to reflect the proper reference for NATO.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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