A Moscow court sentenced journalist Ivan Safronov to 22 years in prison Monday. The sentence means that Safronov, who was arrested in 2020, will remain behind bars until 2042. Previously a defense correspondent for Russian newspapers, Kommersant and Vedomosti, did not plead guilty to any of the charges and repeatedly refused a plea bargain despite a promise that his sentence would be halved if he confessed.
Safronov’s sentence is one of the harshest handed down of any treason case tried in contemporary Russia.
Safronovwas accused of passing classified information about Russia’s defense industry to foreign analysts Martin Larisch from the Czech Republic and Demuri Voronin of Germany. Russian investigators regard both as Western intelligence agents.
Safronov’s trial took place behind closed doors, but in late August journalists uncovered the indictment (prepared by investigators). From this, it is clear the case is entirely fabricated. The main evidence is analytical material Safronov wrote for Larisch and Voronin. These dossiers were compiled for modest fees (Voronin, for example, paid $248 per report) and in all seven cases they included only information that was in the public domain.
The “real reason” for Safronov’s harsh conviction is not known. The BBC Russian Service reported last week that investigations into Safronov began after his article about the supply of Russian SU-35 fighter jets to Egypt in 2019 that was based on correspondence he uncovered between Egyptian and Russian defense officials. Safronov’s report coincided with a visit by the Egyptian president’s chief of staff to the U.S. and prompted a major scandal that caused problems for Cairo. The Egyptians apparently wrote to Moscow, complaining that they suspected it of seeking to send “political messages to third countries.”