Sat, 15 Aug 2020

MOSCOW -- An adviser to the chief of Russia's Roskosmos state space agency, Ivan Safronov Jr., has been detained on a charge of high treason.

Roskosmos's press service said that Safronov, who is also a noted former journalist, was detained on July 7 and added that the high treason charge he faces is not related to his position at the space agency.

The RIA Novosti 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.

The TASS news agency reported on July 7 that because of the classified nature of some materials involved in the case, the court will hold proceedings behind closed doors.

Pavel Chikov, a top human rights lawyer whose organization, Agora, provides legal support to Russians detained in politically motivated cases, wrote on Telegram the same day that police 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 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 focusing 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 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 detainment 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 preapproval from the authorities.

With reporting by MBKh Media, RIA, Open Media, TASS, and Interfax

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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