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Russian Journalist Sentenced To 24 Years In Prison For Treason Refuses To Sign ‘Confession’
A Russian prosecutor made a deal with journalist Ivan Safronov right before he was told he would spend 24 years in prison.
During the last break in court, she said that she would recommend a 12-year sentence if he signed a confession. Safronov replied right away.
In an interview, his lawyer, Evgeny Smirnov, said, “He told her to go away.” “He said that to her in a pretty harsh way.”
On Monday, a Russian judge will likely decide on one of the most critical cases against a Russian journalist in the last 20 years.
Safronov, who used to work as a military reporter for Kommersant and Vedomosti, is facing a “record” sentence for treason. His case has been tried behind closed doors with secret evidence.
Colleagues said that the secret evidence leaked by the Proekt news outlet during the trial showed that the government barely had a case against Safronov.
Taisia Bekbulatova, a friend and colleague of Safronov’s who is the head editor of Holod, an independent media site, said, “I think it’s essential that this showed that Vanya was jailed for his journalism.” She said the 24-year sentence prosecutors asked for was “almost a life sentence.”
The court case is a significant threat to journalists who still work in Russia. It is overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and new laws that make it illegal to say bad things about the Russian military.
“Vanya’s case isn’t just about him and his family,” Smirnov said by phone from Georgia, where he had fled because the case put him in danger of going to jail. “The government has shown that you can go to prison for a long time for good, legal journalism work. And it will have a huge effect of chilling.”
People who support Safronov think that the defence ministry is after him because his work shows how complicated Russia’s international trade in weapons is.
Smirnov said that the defence thinks he may have been targeted because he told the press about plans to sell 20 Su-35 fighter jets to Egypt for a reported $2bn. The deal fell through soon after it was made, and secret evidence shows that the Egyptian military leadership complained to Russia about Safronov’s article.
Bekbulatova said, “The Ministry of Defense hated Safronov because he was the most famous journalist who wrote about their failures.” “It’s clear that Shoigu and others have enough power to bring a criminal case against him,” he said.
Safronov’s case started many years before the Russian invasion, which led to strict new laws for journalists and made hundreds of them leave the country.
“Since this case,” Smirnov said, “I’ve talked to many military correspondents.” “Since Ivan’s case, they’ve changed how they live and work. Because of this, many people have turned down investigations.”
Safronov comes from a family of journalists who look into things. His father, who was also named Ivan, was a military reporter for Kommersant. In 2007, he fell from the window of the family’s apartment and died strangely. Russian media said he was working on a similar story about the shipment of Su-30 fighters and S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. In the end, the article was thrown out.
Safronov worked at the same newspaper as his father, a dedicated journalist. Bekbulatova said that, when it came to the Russian defence industry, he was the “brightest, best-informed, and bravest” reporter.
Even after the prosecutor said he wanted Safronov to serve 24 years in prison, which Smirnov said was a “record” for this kind of treason case and a “last attempt to get him to confess,” his lawyers said he was still defiant.
Smirnov said, “His mood hasn’t changed at all.” “He still thinks he’s innocent, and the fact that he might go to prison hasn’t changed him at all.”
During the case, the prosecutors put a lot of pressure on Safronov and his lawyers.
“Ivan’s first six months in prison were very hard,” Smirnov said. “Then he decided he wouldn’t play games with the FSB and wouldn’t agree to anything, and after that decision, things got easier for him.”
During the case, one of Safronov’s lawyers was locked up. He also said that Smirnov had to leave the country after it came out that the FSB security service was looking into him.
Smirnov said he went to see Safronov in prison one last time before leaving. He said, “We hugged, said goodbye, and promised to see each other again as free people.”