Russia won't tell me what crime I committed, says jailed ex-journalist

A Russian former journalist held for seven months on treason charges has described a Kafkaesque legal process in which he has not been told the substance of the charges against him because they are secret.

In an interview from prison, Ivan Safronov said his family had been named witnesses in the case in an attempt to isolate him and pressure him to plead guilty. “No one must hear my voice – it’s a threat to national security, nothing less,” he said in his first extended remarks since his arrest, published in the Kommersant newspaper.

Safronov, a former military affairs journalist at Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers, was arrested last July in the first high treason case against a reporter since 2001. Treason cases have risen fivefold in the last decade in Russia, in what has been called a return of spy mania.

“They tell me that in 2017 I committed a crime but don’t say what it is I did,” the former journalist said. “They suggest I recall [what I did]. I spent three months digging into myself and I couldn’t recall any crimes.”

The only official details released about the case came in a statement soon after Safronov’s arrest in which he was accused of working for a Nato intelligence agency to “collect and transfer information about military-technical cooperation, defence, and security of Russia”.

According to reports in the Russian press, investigators believe Safronov gave secret information to a Czech intelligence agent working undercover in Moscow as a newspaper reporter.

In the interview, Safronov confirmed he knew the reporter and had written analyses for a news agency he founded, but said he never provided him with any secret information and was unaware whether the man was a spy, as Russia’s FSB has claimed.

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“The investigation considers me a Czech spy,” he said, noting that he had only learned those facts of the case from the public statement. “I’ve asked the investigation to show me the texts that the accusations against me are based on but they have not shown me anything.”

Safronov’s former colleagues at Kommersant have called the charges “absurd” and said it was possible he was being punished for writing on sensitive topics. His father, who covered military affairs for Kommersant, had faced scrutiny from the FSB over articles that revealed problems with Russian weapons projects and international sales. His death in 2007 after falling from a window in his Moscow apartment building was ruled a suicide.

In his remarks, Safronov pointed to the growing number of spy cases around the country.

“Did I think that my contacts with foreigners could become the basis for my legal prosecution? No,” he said. “But seeing how the number of spy cases has expanded in the country, like many other journalists, I made light of the topic quite often.”

He recalled joking that if a woman who wrote a friend two text messages about a train carrying military equipment received a prison sentence of seven years [she was later pardoned], then what sentence would they give to actual reporters covering the military? “I joked too far,” he said wryly.



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