Russia Arrests House Company Official, Accusing Him of Treason

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MOSCOW — Russia’s secret police on Tuesday arrested a revered former reporter who labored in latest months as an adviser to the top of the nation’s area company, accusing him of treason for passing secrets and techniques to a NATO nation.

Life Information, a tabloid information web site with shut ties to the safety equipment, posted a video of the previous reporter, Ivan I. Safronov, being bundled off a leafy Moscow road right into a grey van by plainclothes officers of the Federal Safety Service, or F.S.B., the home arm of what was identified in Soviet occasions because the Okay.G.B.

The F.S.B. mentioned that Mr. Safronov was suspected of working for the intelligence service of an unspecified NATO nation, passing on “categorized details about military-technical cooperation, protection and the safety of the Russian Federation.”

What info that could possibly be, nevertheless, was unclear. Mr. Safronov solely began working on the area company, Roscosmos, in Might. Earlier than that, he labored for greater than a decade as a well-regarded journalist for Kommersant after which Vedomosti, each privately owned enterprise newspapers with no apparent entry to state secrets and techniques.

Outraged at what was extensively considered as one other instance of overreach by Russia’s sprawling and often paranoid security apparatus, journalists and peculiar Muscovites gathered in small teams outdoors the headquarters of the F.S.B. to protest the arrest. A number of have been detained for holding up indicators in help of Mr. Safronov.

Andrei A. Soldatov, an investigative reporter who has written extensively about Russia’s safety companies, mentioned Mr. Safronov’s arrest on suspicion of treason marked “a completely new degree of repression towards journalism.” Whereas journalists have typically been accused of crimes, he mentioned, accusations of treason had been “inconceivable.”

Even journalists identified for his or her zealous loyalty to the authorities expressed unease. Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of Kremlin-funded tv community RT, tweeted that “it might be good to get an evidence of what precisely Safronov is accused of — journalist work for foreigners or direct work for overseas particular companies. There’s a large distinction.”

With tons of of journalists working overseas for RT, Ms. Simonyan clearly worries that Mr. Safronov’s troubles could possibly be utilized by overseas governments as an excuse to justify detaining her personal staff, who’ve typically been accused of peddling propaganda for the Kremlin.

Russian journalists who tackle the authorities are continuously harassed, detained, framed and even killed. In a uncommon reversal, the federal government in June final yr dropped a case against Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter arrested on bogus narcotics fees. The proof towards him was extensively believed to have been manufactured by the police on orders from the F.S.B. to punish Mr. Golunov for reporting work that upset the monetary pursuits of safety officers. The authorities in the end acknowledged that the proof had been fabricated.

On Monday, a court docket in western Russia convicted another journalist, Svetlana Prokopyeva, of terrorism-related fees that even the Kremlin’s personal human rights council had described as unwarranted.

In an announcement on Tuesday, the newspaper the place Mr. Safronov had labored, Kommersant, described its former journalist as a “true patriot of Russia” and scorned claims of treason as “absurd.” It mentioned that Mr. Safronov had joined the newspaper to take a job masking protection points that was beforehand held by his father, additionally named Ivan, who died in March 2007 after falling from the fifth flooring of a Moscow residence constructing.

Prosecutors on the time described the autumn as a suicide, however colleagues scorned this explanation and suspected potential foul play. The older Mr. Safronov died after publishing a collection of scoops that had infuriated the Russian army.

Roscosmos confirmed on Tuesday that Mr. Safronov had been arrested on suspicion of treason however mentioned that the detention didn’t relate to his work on the company. On the identical time, the Kremlin mentioned that the arrest had nothing to do together with his earlier work as a journalist, which included protection of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, mentioned he didn’t understand how Mr. Safronov may have obtained categorized info whose disclosure would qualify as treason, a criminal offense punishable by as much as 20 years in jail. Trials involving state secrets and techniques are usually closed to the general public, making it unattainable for anybody outdoors the system to know whether or not there may be any actual proof.

A former American marine, Paul N. Whelan, received a 16-year jail sentence for espionage final month after a closed trial that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan, denounced as a “mockery of justice.”

The arrest on Tuesday of Mr. Safronov prompted dismay and anger amongst journalists, together with those that have principally averted open confrontation with the authorities. Elena Chernenko, a overseas affairs journalist at Kommersant, Mr. Safronov’s former newspaper, staged a one-person picket, the one type of protest permitted with out prior approval, outdoors the headquarters of the F.S.B., holding up an indication demanding “info and justice in reference to Ivan Safronov.” Cops took her away.

Even Mr. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, appeared stunned by the arrest of a journalist who had as soon as labored within the Kremlin pool and whom he had beforehand described as extremely proficient.

“Ivan can have an opportunity to defend himself,” Mr. Peskov informed journalists on Tuesday.

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