July 7, 2020 / 8:03 AM / a month ago

Russia detains ex-journalist accused of passing secrets to West

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian security forces on Tuesday detained a former journalist who works as an aide to the head of Russia’s space agency and accused him of treason, saying he had passed military secrets to the Czech Republic.

Ivan Safronov, a former journalist who works as an aide to the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, detained on suspicion of treason stands inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Moscow, Russia July 7, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Footage released by the FSB security service showed Ivan Safronov being detained outside his Moscow flat by armed agents who searched him before putting him into a van.

He could later be heard saying “I’m not guilty” as masked agents led him past reporters to a court hearing that was closed to the public.

The court ruled he be held in pre-trial detention for two months until Sept. 6. His lawyers said they would appeal.

Safronov, who committed his alleged crime when working as a journalist covering military affairs for the Kommersant newspaper, faces up to two decades in jail if found guilty. His trial is expected to be closed.

It is the first time in nearly two decades that a journalist has been accused of treason in Russia, said Ivan Pavlov, one of Safronov’s lawyers.

Pavlov said investigators alleged that Safronov had passed secrets to the Czech Republic via the internet in 2017.

The information concerned Russian arms deliveries to the Middle East and Africa, Pavlov cited investigators as saying, saying the secrets were later passed to Washington.

TASS reported last year that prosecutors wanted to bring a case against Kommersant for disclosing a state secret.

Russian news portal The Bell said then that an article which Safronov had worked on had disappeared from Kommersant’s site.

It said Egypt had agreed to buy Russian Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets. Washington threatened Egypt with sanctions if the deal went through.

Safronov’s detention has raised fears among journalists of a new wave of repression. Staff at Kommersant said in an editorial that the allegations looked absurd because he was a real patriot.

Some of Safronov’s former colleagues and friends protested outside FSB headquarters before being detained.

The FSB had earlier issued a statement accusing Safronov of working for an unnamed NATO foreign intelligence service and of handing over “state secrets and information about military-technical cooperation and about the defence and security of the Russian Federation.”

Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow, Maxim Rodionov, Anton Zverev and Alexander Reshetnikov; Editing by Giles Elgood, Gareth Jones, Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis

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