Moscow – A court in Moscow today sentenced Russian journalist Ivan Safronov, who was indicted for alleged cooperation with Czech intelligence, to 22 years in prison with increased security. This was reported by the TASS agency, according to which it is the strictest verdict given in Russia for the crime of treason in recent years. The defense will appeal the verdict. The verdict was criticized by Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský, who called the claim about Safronov’s cooperation with Czech intelligence nonsense.
Safronov has denied any guilt from the beginning. He emphasizes that he was only engaged in journalism and did not have access to state secrets. He accuses the Russian secret service of trying to produce spies when the real ones are hard to catch.
In addition to the 22-year sentence, which Safronov is to serve in a penal colony with a strict regime, the court imposed a fine of 500,000 rubles (about 204,000 crowns) on the former adviser to the Russian space agency Roskosmos and a correspondent for Kommersant and Vedomosti.
The defense asked for acquittal. In response to today’s verdict, she said she would appeal against it. “We insist on Safronov’s innocence,” TASS quoted lawyer Dmitry Katchev as saying. According to him, Safronov received a 22-year sentence for doing his job. “Every journalist in Russia should now think about whether to stay in this profession,” Katchev added.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský told CTK and Czech Television that the claim about Safronov’s cooperation with Czech intelligence is about as credible as the claim that Russia is liberating Ukraine. “It’s nonsense. The punishment is shocking, it was done here in the 1950s under the tutelage of Soviet advisers, today (President Vladimir) Putin is doing it again in Russia,” said the head of Czech diplomacy.
Last month, Safronov refused to accept a deal with investigators that would have him serve a 12-year prison sentence. The prosecution asked for 24 years in prison. According to TASS sources from the Russian justice system, the two years he spent in custody were counted towards Safronov’s sentence. He will be eligible for conditional release at the earliest after serving two-thirds of his sentence, which is approximately 14 years from now.
According to the Interfax agency, Safronov turned to the public after the verdict and exclaimed in the courtroom: “I love you all!”. The journalists, relatives and friends present rewarded Safronov with applause. Some broke down in tears in response to the harsh verdict, AFP reported.
Even before today’s trial, several independent Russian media called for Safronov’s release, Reuters reported. In a statement, they said it was “obvious” that Safronov had been punished for his reporting on Russian military contracts that had angered the Defense Ministry.
Safronov’s high sentence – higher than Russian courts usually hand down for murder – is seen as a blow to Russian media amid the Kremlin’s intensified crackdown on free speech since the February invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported. According to the agency, lawyer and human rights defender Pavel Čikov described the sentence as a “brutal and demonstrably cruel punishment that corresponds to the current state of Russia.” He said he could not recall any other treason court case that had resulted in such a long sentence, let alone a journalist.
Safronov was arrested in July 2020 by the Russian FSB secret service and charged with treason. The Secret Service claims that the journalist was recruited by Czech intelligence in 2012. According to the FSB, Safronov passed on secret information about the supply of Russian weapons to post-Soviet states, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans, and this information could be used by NATO states against Russia’s security.
According to the investigators, the journalist was also supposed to pass on information about the activities of Russian soldiers in Syria to political scientist Demuri Voronin, who allegedly forwarded it to the German secret service. According to the investigation file, Voronin allegedly paid Safronov $248 (about CZK 6,000) for the provided data. According to the prosecutor’s office, the journalist committed crimes for remuneration.
Russia intelligence court media