6 September 2022
On 5 September 2022, Moscow City Court sentenced journalist Ivan Safronov to 22 years in prison on charges of treason.
The blatantly unlawful verdict mechanically repeated the indictment, which itself lacks any basis in evidence. This is nothing new. So far as we can tell, there have been dozens of dubious prosecutions of ‘spy scientists’ (as well as convictions for treason and espionage on behalf of Ukraine) that are no more convincing in terms of charges and evidence than the Safronov case. Russian investigative authorities and courts do not bother themselves with searching for sound evidence of guilt, especially in cases where there is an obvious political order to convict. However, even against the general background of Russian lawlessness, Ivan Safronov’s case stands out.
The journalist was tried for treason because of his journalistic work, that much is clear from the indictment made public by his colleagues.
Journalistic solidarity gave Safronov’s case an unprecedented resonance and provided him with tremendous public support. Three years ago, it was a campaign of this kind that helped snatch Ivan Golunov from the jaws of injustice.
However, it was not only this wave of support, but also his lawyers’ courage, that ensured a degree of publicity for the trial unprecedented in cases of treason and espionage. For their good work, Safronov’s defence team came under unprecedented pressure. Two of Safronov’s lawyers were forced to leave Russia under threat of criminal prosecution. A third, Dmitry Talantov, found himself behind bars. Two more lawyers withdrew from the case. FSB investigators did not allow the defence lawyers to copy any extracts from the dozens of volumes of the case materials, or even to read those materials to the end.
In the upshot – uniquely! – by the end of Safronov’s trial, both the charges and the supporting ‘evidence’ were in the public domain. Usually, cases of treason have been conducted under a veil of secrecy and, despite the dubious nature of the charges, human rights activists and the general public have not been able to give a well-founded independent assessment. It was known neither what the person had been accused of doing, nor how this had been proved.
However, in the case of Ivan Safronov we know for certain that neither the charges nor the evidence should have been able to stand up in court. Ivan had no access to state secrets. Neither the investigative authority nor the court indicated a specific source from which Safronov allegedly could have obtained information that was a state secret. All the information in question was available from open sources and media publications. The verdict is entirely based on speculation, preconceptions, assumptions and biased value judgments.
Neither Safronov’s obvious innocence, nor the courage with which he fought for his good name right up until the verdict, nor the professionalism and courage of his defence lawyers, prevented the Russian ‘justice’ system from handing down the harshest verdict in its history in a case of this kind.
The Russian political system took brutal revenge on someone who refused to submit to arbitrariness or to recognize the ‘rules of the game’ of the absurd reality of the Kafkaesque ‘trial.’
The sentence against Safronov, handed down on 5 September, the anniversary of the 1918 decree ‘On Red Terror’, is an example of the degradation of the Russian legal system, especially evident in cases investigated by the FSB, an organisation that is a key element in the political system.
Memorial Human Rights Centre [Центр защиты прав человека «Мемориал»] categorically condemns the cruel, unjust and politically motivated conviction of Ivan Safronov and demands his release.
While we understand the futility of such demands in today’s Russia, we are certain the current catastrophic condition of the legal system in our country cannot and must not be allowed to last much longer.
Free Ivan Safronov! Free all political prisoners!
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Translated by Rights in Russia