Russian journalist Ivan Safronov sentenced to 22 years in prison | Russia

A Russian court has sentenced the journalist Ivan Safronov to 22 years in prison on trumped-up treason charges, a record sentence that has shocked friends and supporters who gathered in court on Monday to protest against his imprisonment.

Safronov, a former defence reporter for the Kommersant and Vedomosti dailies, was tried on secret evidence. But case files revealed by Proekt showed that much of the case against him came from public data in his articles and alleged ties to foreigners that were not backed up by evidence.

Nonetheless, a panel of judges came to a quick decision in the case, which his lawyer said would send a chilling effect through Russian journalism and showed that “for good, legal journalism work, you can go to prison for a long time”.

Safronov stared straight ahead as a judge sentenced him to 22 years in prison and another two years of strict probation when he is released, potentially in 2042, given time already served. As the court was adjourned, his supporters, many of them journalists present to cover the trial, began to applaud in his support.

“I’ll write to everyone. Keep writing to me. I love you!” he said from the glass cage where defendants are held in Russian courtrooms. Moments later, Safronov, who was dressed in a black vest and grey sweatpants, was led away.

“You can all go burn [in hell],” his fiancee told the remaining bailiffs in the courtroom, according to a Mediazona correspondent.

Safronov was put under enormous pressure to confess during the investigation. In a final hearing, a prosecutor offered to recommend him a 12-year sentence if he confessed. He refused and the prosecution sought 24 years in prison instead. “He told them to get lost,” Evgeny Smirnov, a lawyer for Safronov, told the Guardian.

Several hundred people attended the court hearing. Some were crying and hugging in the corridors and on the street outside after the verdict was read out. As the courtroom was cleared, one reporter cut off another asking about a detail of the sentence: “I don’t know. I heard 22 years and I stopped fucking listening.”

Russian officials claimed that they had caught Safronov “finding out and collecting secret and top-secret information … including in relation to Russia’s military-technical cooperation with the states that are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, as well as the countries of the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans”.

The defence said they believed he was targeted for revealing details of the potential sale of 20 Su-35 fighters to Egypt in an aborted deal that caused the Egyptian military leadership to lodge a protest with Russia.

“The case of Ivan Safronov is one of the most closed and strangest cases in recent Russian judicial history,” said Katerina Gordeeva, a journalist who made a short film about the case. In an interview, Safronov’s mother told her: “He won’t break. He has a tough core. He can handle it.”

Most of Russia’s independent media signed a public statement calling for Safronov’s release. “We believe this decision is unjust and politically motivated. Journalism is not a crime.”

In a final statement to the court before his sentencing, Safronov said: “The whole world will see that they want to put a journalist in jail for writing articles. To pass a guilty verdict means to end the topic of freedom of speech for a long time, if not for ever, because there will be no speech, no freedom.

“If I am destined to sit in prison, then I will serve my sentence with honour and dignity.”

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