MONITORING OF REPRESSION IN RUSSIA: journalist Ivan Safronov sentenced to 22 years in jail. What is important to know?

What happened? On September 5, the Moscow City Court found former journalist Ivan Safronov guilty of high treason and sentenced him to 22 years in a harsh regime colony plus two years’ restriction of liberty and a fine of 500,000 rubles (approx. $8,300). Safronov’s defense has announced that it will appeal the sentence.


Who is Ivan Safonov ? Journalist Ivan Safronov wrote for 10 years about the army and the arms industry in the largest Russian newspapers “Kommersant” and “Vedomosti”. In spring 2019 Safronov and his colleagues published material on the possible resignation of the chairman of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko . A month after the publication of the material, two of its authors (Ivan Safronov and Maksim Ivanov) left “Kommersant” claiming that they had been forced to leave under pressure. A few months after leaving journalism Ivan Safronov was detained (July 2020), charged with high treason, arrested and placed in the “Lefortovo” prison. At that time he worked as an advisor of the head of the state enterprise “Roskosmos” for less than a month and a half. The investigation claims that he passed on classified data to foreign intelligence services. “Roskosmos” denied that Safronov had access to a state secret. The journalist pleaded not guilty.


How was the Safronov trial? The details of the case were not released, the trial was closed and pressure was put on the defense. Safronov’s defender Yevgeny Smirnov said the journalist had been under surveillance since 2014, but in a different case of “disclosure of a state secret”. For the two years that the investigation was underway Safronov was in pre-trial detention center and was unable even to call his family. The investigation claims that Safronov allegedly transferred information to foreigners containing state secrets in the interests of Western intelligence.

Court hearings were closed due to supposedly “concluded state secrecy”.

In the spring of 2021 criminal proceedings were initiated against lawyer Ivan Pavlov for the “disclosure of data from the investigation”. He left Russia in September 2021. Another Safronov defender, Yevgeny Smirnov, also left Russia under pressure from the services.

Interviewed witnesses claim that Safronov did not provide any secret information. The investigation found that Ivan Safronov provided data on “state secrets” for material gain but this has not been proven.

The prosecution demanded 24 years in prison, a two-year restriction of liberty and a fine of 500,000 rubles. Announcing the charges prosecutor Elvira Zotchik suggested that Safronov plead guilty in exchange for 12 years in prison.

“After reading the investigation materials I can say unmistakably that my criminal proceedings are directly related to my journalistic work,” Safronov said in his final speech.


Why is it important? The materials of the case went to journalists who proved that Safronov was tried for journalistic activities, but the court refused to join the investigation to the case.

Only at the end of August 2022, i.e. two years after the start of the investigation, the “Project” portal published the accusation. Safronov was charged with passing information to a Czech citizen as well as providing secret information about Russia’s activities in Syria to German intelligence and the University of Zurich. The investigation found a “state secret” in seven materials sent by Safronov.

The journalists of the “Project” analyzed the materials. The absolute majority of information contained therein is available in open sources, press materials or on government websites. The only thing journalists could not find in open sources was the information that tests of some reconnaissance satellites had not been completed on time. In the indictment we read that the FSB found information in this fragment which “reveal the use, purpose and technical condition of intelligence equipment”. But it is this information about the purpose and technical condition of the equipment that the journalists of “Project” found on Wikipedia. Journalists suggested that the “government secret” for which Safronov was tried may be information about missed deadlines. The same information was easily published on its website by the Moscow Arbitration Court.


Photo: Dmitriy Lebedev/Kommersant

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