Russian officials do not often meet the demands of protestors or answer the calls of news media, observers note.
So, the decision last week to release arrested investigative reporter Ivan Golunov has encouraged opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Golunov was arrested on drug charges, but few people believed the charges.
Activists say they hope Golunov’s release will be the start of an effort for change. They hope to start a movement against corruption and rights abuses that officials cannot ignore.
Experts say the decision by the Russian government to release Golunov was unusual. The government in Moscow rarely intervenes when police and other lower-level officials go too far. Public demands for Golunov’s release surprised high-level officials. They are concerned about the public mood.
For the past few years, Russians have become poorer and corruption has increased, the activists say. And Putin’s approval rating is lower.
Top government officials moved quickly to say that Putin was not responsible for the arrest of the journalist.
Golunov writes for the independent Russian news organization Meduza. It is based in the Baltic state of Latvia to get around censorship rules, but most of its reporters live in Russia.
There was “outrage in response to the violent arrest of Russian, anti-corruption journalist Ivan Golunov,” tweeted Bill Browder. He said that it caused Russian officials to give in to protestors’ demands. Browder is the American-born financier who has campaigned against high-level corruption in Russia.
Golunov was released on June 11 after being held on charges of having and giving out drugs.
Protests grew when it became clear that the evidence against him was false, and police had placed drugs on him. The judge in the case was not persuaded by the evidence. He ordered Gulonov to be moved from jail, where he had been abused by police. He was placed under house arrest instead.
Some local media are reporting that Putin’s assistant helped the judge make his decision.
Local media reported that the country’s state-owned television channels also supported the arrested journalist after the judge’s decision.
Tests showed that Golunov’s genetic material, or DNA, was not on the drugs. Moscow police admitted that photographs they posted of what they claimed were drugs in his apartment were false.
The police are now under investigation. The head of the Department for Narcotics Control as well as the head of the Moscow Police Department have been fired by the government along with two deputy ministers at the country’s Interior Ministry.
Golunov’s arrest appeared to have been ordered by businessmen linked to corrupt police. Golunov had accused the businessmen of corruption. His most recent investigation showed how state officials, criminals and the police have taken over Moscow’s funeral business.
His release was met with celebration by activists. But observers remain concerned.
“It is far too early to speak of a ‘thaw,’ according to The Bell. It is an independent news organization that campaigned for the charges against Golunov to be dropped. The Bell also warned that civil society remains fragile.
But some believe the Golunov case may be an important political development. It may show the Russian government’s inability to control officials, the powerful or security agencies--or to end the corruption that angers ordinary Russians.
“Russians appear increasingly to be losing their patience with the status quo,” argued Mark Galeotti. He is author of the book “We Need to Talk About Putin.”
“Putin…looks weak,” he said in a published commentary. “To look weak is to become weak,” he added.
I’m Susan Shand.
Words in This Story
encouraged – v. to make (someone) more determined, hopeful, or confident
mood – n. the way someone feels : a person's emotional state
journalist –n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio
censorship –n. the system of examines books, movies, letters, etc., and removes things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.
thaw – v. to become more friendly and less angry
fragile – adj. easily broken or damaged
status quo – n. the current situation : the way things are now