Russian Space Agency aide detained, accused of treason | News | DW | 07.07.2020

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Russian Space Agency aide detained, accused of treason

Ivan Safronov's arrest "could be connected with his previous publications about the military," according to a report. He joined Roscosmos in May this year as policy adviser to the agency's chief Dmitry Rogozin.

A former journalist and current policy advisor to the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, was detained on Tuesday accused of treason, the organization announced.

The charges Ivan Safronov faces relate to the passing of state secrets to a NATO country, the RIA news agency said, citing Russia's security service (FSB).

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The FSB allege Safronov passed on classified military data, as well as defense information, to the other country.

Meanwhile, Roscomos said an investigation was underway and that it was "fully cooperating with the investigative authorities."

Press mobilizes in Safronov's defense

There has been an outpouring of support for Ivan Safronov from within the Russian media sector. Journalists gathering outside the FSB building in Moscow to protest his arrest. Several demonstrators were arrested, though one-man pickets do not have to be authorized in advance in Russia. Many of the assembled protesters told reporters that they were convinced that Ivan Safronov had been arrested for his independent journalism.

Representatives of several well-known media outlets including Safronov's former employer Kommersant and the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, have published official statements of support for Safronov, vouching for his high professional standards.

Speaking in a video from a police van, Kommersant journalist Alexander Chernykh commented that "when journalists are arrested one after the other – that is a very bad sign for our whole country." On Monday, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva was found guilty of inciting terrorism for a column. Some observers have also compared Safronov's case with the arrest of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov last year. He was accused of drugs possession but all charges against him were dropped after a huge public outcry over the case because of a lack of evidence. 

Safronov's father, also called Ivan, was an investigative reporter at Kommersant as well. He died in 2007 in murky circumstances having fallen from a high window. An inquiry ruled it was suicide, but some of his colleagues disputed that, saying he had been working on a story about Russian arms deals with Iran and Syria.

Roscosmos: Arrest unconnected to us

The space agency said in a statement that the arrest of Safronov in Moscow had nothing to do with his work at Roscosmos. He joined the space agency as a media and policy adviser in May this year.

A source told news agency Interfax that Safronov's arrest could be connected to his work as a journalist, his previous profession, and that he did not have permission to access state secrets as a member of staff at Roscomos.

Safronov was a journalist and columnist working for the independent newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti, where he wrote about political issues, the military, and space programs in Russia.

In 2019, Kommersant took down an online article co-written by Safronov about the delivery of Russian jets to Egypt. The decision to remove the column was made in the wake of court proceedings getting under way looking into the disclosure of state secrets.

Safronov was forced to resign from Kommersant in May 2019 after filing a report saying the speaker of Russia's upper house was planning to resign.

The entire politics desk of the newspaper quit in protest against the dismissals of Safronov and a colleague who co-authored the piece.

DW's Emily Sherwin contributed to this report from Moscow. 

jsi/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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