ADDING RUSSIA OUT - In this photo taken on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, Ivan Safronov looks at a photographer in his working place in Kommersant Publishing House in Moscow, Russia. Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's state space corporation Roscosmos, has been detained on treason charges by the nation's top security agency. (Peter Kassin, Kommersant Photo via AP)

Russian space official, ex-journalist, charged with treason

July 07, 2020 - 9:49 am

MOSCOW (AP) — An adviser to the director of Russia's state space corporation has been detained on treason charges, the nation's top security agency said Tuesday.

Ivan Safronov, a former journalist who served as an adviser to Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, was detained in Moscow by agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main KGB successor agency.

Safronov's arrest sent shock waves across Russian media, with many journalists questioning the treason charges and his former newspaper openly rejecting them as “absurd.”

The FSB said that Safronov is accused of relaying sensitive data to a spy agency of an unspecified NATO member. It said in a statement that the information he provided referred to “military-technical cooperation, defense and security of the Russian Federation.”

Safronov could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Roscosmos said that Safronov didn't have access to state secrets, and claimed that the charges didn't relate to Safronov's work for the corporation, which he joined in May. Prior to that, Safronov worked as a correspondent for the top business daily Kommersant for nearly a decade until 2019, and after that worked for a year for another business daily, Vedomosti.

He covered military issues, arms trade and government affairs.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Safronov's detention wasn't related to his activities as a journalist. Grilled about the case during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Peskov described Safronov, who once covered the Kremlin, as a “talented journalist.”

Kommersant put out a statement in support of Safronov, hailing him as one of the country's top journalists and a “true patriot” who was deeply concerned about the state of the military and space industries that he covered. The newspaper described the accusations against him as “absurd.”

The paper noted that rights activists, journalists, scientists and corporate officials who faced treason accusations found it difficult to defend themselves because of secrecy surrounding their cases and lack of public access.

“As a result, the public has to rely on the narrative offered by special services, whose work has increasingly raised questions,” Kommersant said. “Journalists asking those questions find themselves under blow.”

Several journalists, including those who worked with Safronov for years, were detained outside FSB headquarters in Moscow when they held pickets to protest his arrest.

Last year, the FSB reportedly opened an inquiry following Safronov's article that claimed that Russia had signed a contract with Egypt for the delivery of sophisticated Su-35 fighter jets. Kommersant later removed the report from its website, and no charges were filed.

Safronov's father also worked for Kommersant after retiring from the armed forces and covered military issues. In 2007, he died after falling from a window of his apartment building in Moscow. Investigators concluded that he killed himself, but some Russian media questioned the official version, pointing at his intention to publish a sensitive report about secret arms deliveries to Iran and Syria.

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