Russian Space Agency Aide, Former Journalist Pleads Not Guilty To High Treason
By Current Time, RFE/RL's Russian Service July 07, 2020
MOSCOW -- Ivan Safronov Jr., an adviser to the chief of Russia's Roskosmos state space agency and a former journalist, has pleaded not guilty after being detained on a charge of high treason for allegedly passing military secrets to a NATO government.
Safronov was arrested and searched by armed officers of the FSB security service outside his apartment on July 7 before being taken to court, where he entered his plea.
Roskosmos's press service said that the high treason charge that Safronov faces is not related to his position at the space agency.
The TASS news agency reported that because of the classified nature of some materials involved in the case, the court will hold proceedings behind closed doors. It added that sources said Safronov denied the charges during his interrogation.
Safronov could face up to 20 years in prison, if convicted.
Several of his colleagues, who protested outside the FSB headquarters in Moscow, dismissed the charges as absurd. Some said that the move is a sign of the further erosion of free speech and freedom of the press in Russia, which is already facing heavy criticism for backtracking on democracy after a package of constitutional reforms was adopted last week that, among other things, paves the way for President Vladimir Putin to possibly extend his hold on power until 2036.
The RIA news agency quoted the FSB Security Service as saying that Safronov worked for the foreign intelligence service of an unspecified NATO country and had been handing over classified military information.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on July 7 that Safronov's detainment "is not linked to his journalistic activities."
"He is accused of high treason, of passing secret data to foreign intelligence. As far as we are informed, the detainment has nothing to do with the journalistic activities Safronov was involved with in the past," Peskov said.
Pavel Chikov, a top human rights lawyer whose organization, Agora, provides legal support to Russians detained in politically motivated cases, wrote on Telegram that police also searched the apartment of journalist Taisia Bekbulatova, who is known as being a close associate of Safronov.
According to Chikov, after the search, Bekbulatova was brought to police for questioning as a witness in an unspecified case along with her lawyer Nikolai Vasilyev.
TASS and Interfax both quoted unidentified sources as saying that Bekbulatova is being questioned as a witness in the Safronov case.
Safronov, who started his current job in May, used to work for leading Russian newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti.
As a journalist, Safronov mainly covered issues related to the activities of Russia's military industrial sector. His father, Ivan Safronov Sr., also worked for Kommersant and focused mainly on the operations of the military industrial complex.
Safronov Sr. died at the age of 51 after he mysteriously fell out of a window in his apartment block in Moscow in 2007. Police concluded the death was a suicide, though relatives and friends say they suspect foul play.
Safronov Jr. was fired from Kommersant last year after writing an article about the possible resignation of Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the Russian parliament's upper chamber.
His firing led to a crisis at the paper after all of the journalists at Kommersant's politics department resigned in protest.
In June 2019, media reports surfaced saying that Kommersant might face administrative lawsuits for making state secrets public.
It was not clear which state secrets had been made public, but one of Safronov's articles about Russia's plans to deliver Su-35 military planes to Egypt was removed from the newspaper's website.
At the time, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo warned of possible sanctions against Egypt if Cairo were to purchase the planes from Moscow, The Bell website said at the time.
Kommersant Director-General Vladimir Zhelonkin told the Open Media group on July 7 that there were no issues with authorities related to Safronov's article published in his newspaper last year, adding that the article in question did not contain any data that might be classified as a state secret.
Following Safronov's detention on July 7, at least seven journalists were held by police as they staged single-picket protests in front of the Federal Security Service's headquarters in Moscow. They were demanding "transparency, openness, and detailed information" on Safronov's case.
Other journalists continued the single-picket protests, which do not require pre-approval from the authorities.
With reporting by MBKh Media, RIA Novosti, Open Media, TASS, and Interfax
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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