MOSCOW – Russian authorities said on Tuesday they will release freelance investigative journalist Ivan Golunov following a huge public outcry over his arrest for alleged drug offenses, which his supporters said were fabricated.
The announcement came after days of protests that saw several major newspapers campaign for his freedom.
“The results of biological, criminal, fingerprinting, and genetic testing have led to a decision to cease the criminal prosecution of the civilian Ivan Golunov due to a lack of evidence that he took part in committing a crime,” Russian interior minister, Vladimir Kolokolstev, said in a statement.
“Today, he will be freed from house arrest, and the charges against him will be cleared,” he added.
The minister added that there was no evidence of the reporter’s guilt had been found and that two officers had been suspended.
Golunov worked with the Latvia-based outlet Meduza, which is critical of the Kremlin.
He said an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Golunov’s arrest had been opened.
Kolokolstev added that he would request that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, dismiss senior members of the police embroiled in the case, including two generals.
“I believe that, regardless of their professional affiliation, the rights of any citizen should always be protected,” he said.
Police arrested Golunov in Moscow on June 6 after they allegedly found drugs on his person and in his house.
“I am crying with happiness. We perfectly understand that this has been made possible thanks to the efforts of thousands of people,” Galina Timchenko, director-general of Meduza, told the press.
Mikhail Fedotov, the presidential advisor for human rights, also welcomed the decision.
The criminal prosecution of Golunov, known for his investigations into corruption among Muscovite officials, sparked widespread criticism from activists in Russia and further afield from international organizations like Amnesty International and the European Council.
It caused a particular stir in Russia’s journalism community, which began to organize protests in front of the Interior Ministry building in the capital demanding the reporter be released.
In an unprecedented move, three large Russian newspapers simultaneously printed the same cover in solidarity with Golunov.
The freelancer maintained his innocence throughout and said the police persecution was linked to his job as an investigative reporter.