The Russian former journalist Safronov was sentenced to 22 years in prison for treason


© Reuters FILE PHOTO: Ivan Safronov, former journalist and head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, who is in prison on charges of treason, stands in the defendant’s home during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia. Pr


(Reuters) – A Russian court on Monday sentenced a former journalist to 22 years in prison for treason after prosecutors disclosed state secrets, a decision supporters said was a harsh punishment for Russia’s lack of media freedom.

Ivan Safronov, a former defense journalist for Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers, was arrested in 2020 as a chief adviser to the Russian space agency and accused of leaking classified information.

Safronov’s lawyers said they would appeal the verdict. Supporters say the case is retaliation for the report, which exposed a list of Russia’s international arms deals.

Speaking outside court, Safronov’s lawyer, Dmitry Katchev, said he was at a loss for words at the decision.

“Safronov was given 22 years for his work as a journalist. I want each of you who are watching me now to think that it is worthwhile to stay in this profession. If a person is given 22 years to do his work, he told reporters.

Pavel Chikov, a human rights lawyer, said the sentence was “a barbaric, brutal punishment that corresponds to the current situation in Russia”.

He said that he could not find any example of a treason charge that carries such a long sentence, let alone a journalist.

Prosecutor Safronov shared state secrets with the Czech Republic’s Foreign Intelligence Service regarding Russia’s arms sales in the Middle East. He denied the charges and last month rejected a plea deal that would have seen him sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Open source?

In the year His arrest in July 2020 sparked an outcry from Russian journalists, including state-run ones. The EU has called on Russia to drop its charges against Seferonov and release him unconditionally.

After his arrest, the Kremlin called Safronov a “talented journalist” but repeatedly denied involvement in the case.

Safronov, 32, has denied the charges and said the information he allegedly passed on to the Czech Republic was all open public information.

During the trial, the legal team published links to 19 published articles and government statements.

“Ivan never sent any classified information anywhere – for money or for free… He was just a journalist, doing his job honestly,” the lawyers said in a statement.

The defense team believes the trial is punishment for Safronov, who said Russia planned to sell fighter jets to Egypt. The estimated $2 billion deal was soon shelved when the United States threatened to impose sanctions on Cairo if it continued.

Ahead of Monday’s court hearing, several independent Russian media called for Safronov’s release. In a statement, outlets including Meduza, Novaya Gazeta and TV Rain said Safronov was being punished for reporting Russian military procurement deals that angered the Defense Ministry.

The Kremlin’s crackdown on press freedom has intensified since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, with tougher sentences in murder cases than Russian courts – seen as a blow to Russia’s reporting.

On Monday, a Moscow court revoked the publication license of Novaya Gazeta, which stopped publication days after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine and clamped down on the media.

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