, June 11, 2019, Condensed text:

Around 5 p.m. on June 11, Internal Affairs Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev announced that the criminal charges against Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov have been dropped “due to lack of evidence of his involvement in the commission of a crime.” [Kolokoltsev] promised that [the journalist] will be released from house arrest the same day and all charges will be dismissed. At almost 9 p.m., Golunov finally left the Chief Investigative Administration building, where he was taken from his home. This is incredibly good news, and it clearly would not have happened if society hadn’t quickly mobilized to help Ivan. But that’s not all. We hope that the investigation into the actions of the police will be impartial and will punish those responsible.

The minister’s statement.

“Based on the results of biological, forensic, fingerprint and genetic analysis, it has been decided to end the criminal prosecution of citizen I[van] Golunov due to lack of evidence of his involvement in a crime. Today, he will be released from house arrest and all charges against him will be dismissed.

“The materials of an internal investigation into the Internal Affairs Ministry’s security administration have been forwarded to the Russian Investigative Committee [IC] in order to assess the lawfulness of the actions of the police officers who detained [Golunov]. They have been suspended from duty for the duration of the investigation.

“I have requested that the Russian president dismiss from their posts Police Maj. Gen. Andrei Puchkov, head of the Moscow Western Administrative District Chief Internal Affairs Administration, and Police Maj. Gen. Yury Devyatkin, head of the Chief Internal Affairs Administration’s drug control unit.

“I believe that any citizen’s rights must always be protected, regardless of their professional affiliation.”

The Golunov case.

Ivan Golunov was detained on the afternoon of June 6 in downtown Moscow by officers of the Western Administrative District Internal Affairs Administration. During a search of his backpack, [they] took out a packet containing an unknown substance. . . .

On Saturday evening (after he was taken to the hospital for an examination due to injuries and because he was feeling unwell), he was brought to Moscow’s Nikulinsky Court. Investigators requested that he be placed [in a pretrial detention center], but the court decided to put Golunov under house arrest.

On Monday, three of the country’s leading newspapers – Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBC Daily – came out with the same headline: the slogan “I Am/We Are Ivan Golunov,” along with a general statement about the need for case transparency and an investigation into the police officers’ actions. Rallies in support of Golunov took place in other countries, as well; the event was covered by global media. On June 12, a march was scheduled in downtown Moscow demanding freedom for Golunov.

Even Russian state media outlets, including television, began on Monday to comment on the Golunov situation and voice support for him. It became clear that the regime would try to find a way out of the situation.

Possible explanations.

Without question, Ivan Golunov’s release is the result of unprecedented public pressure. However, the authorities have come under such pressure before and did not relent in every case. So what made them do so now?

First, it’s unlikely that the operation against Golunov was planned at the very top. Everything indicates that this was a midlevel administrative decision, yet it created a serious problem for the very top. The presidential St. Petersburg International Economic Forum basically ended up overshadowed by news about Golunov. The incredible resonance [the case stirred up] in Russian and global media happened 10 days before Putin’s Direct Line, and he would have had to answer some tough questions.

Second, the operation was so clumsily set up that even attempts by proregime commentators failed to fix the situation or actually convince anyone that Golunov was guilty. Officials simply did not know how to spin the usual line “the police and courts will decide.”

Third, it is entirely possible that the regime got scared of the June 12 march – it was clear that it would be large-scale and that the participants’ demands would resonate with the public. It was unclear what to do about that.

Fourth, most likely some sort of tacit agreements at the top came into play. It was obvious that the operation against Golunov was unacceptable to many establishment representatives who have their own scores to settle with the security clan and are unhappy about how the law is generally applied [in the country].

At the same time, there were clearly problems with deescalating the situation, since that would mean the regime having to admit that the police acted illegally – what’s more, at the middle level, not the lower ranks. This was further complicated by the fact that the Chief Internal Affairs Administration justified [police] actions, while the infamous photos from Ivan’s apartment (which were actually taken somewhere else) were published on the agency’s site.

Questions remain.

“Golunov is free, but no one has been punished for planting drugs [on him]. No one has been held responsible for falsified evidence, which is simply the biggest among a huge number of such fabrications.*** We need to bring an end to dozens more cases against journalists and achieve actual freedom of speech,” the [Russian] Journalists’ Union stated.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the [President’s] Human Rights Council, [said]: “We are convinced that this must not be the final chapter in this story, because those guilty of such abuse of the law must be brought to justice.”

Meduza issued a statement by Galina Timchenko, Ivan Kolpakov, Dmitry Muratov, Yelizaveta Osetinskaya and Sergei Badamshin: “The Ivan Golunov case has been dropped. That is the result of an unprecedented international campaign of journalistic and civic solidarity. Together, we did something incredible: We ended the criminal prosecution of an innocent person.*** Ivan’s freedom is a great cause for celebration. We want to all be together at this celebration. Negotiations with the city about tomorrow’s march have reached an impasse. Our proposal: Let’s grab some drinks tomorrow, and in the coming days get approval to have a rally in downtown Moscow.*** The people who organized the operation against Golunov have not been named. The group of journalists that we have assembled over the last several days will continue to work on [finding out who is responsible] – together with Ivan this time.”

Indeed, the main question – who organized the operation against Golunov and why – remains open. Kolokoltsev made the relevant personnel decisions, but we need an investigation to bring actual results. Golunov said he was threatened, and that this could be related to [his] investigation into ties between the funeral business mafia and the security establishment.

Publications about these possible ties have already appeared in Aleksei Navalny’s publication Proyekt [Project].

More general questions have to do with the application of the all-encompassing Criminal Code Art. 228 (which often allows police to plant drugs in many cases) and the work of Russian law-enforcement agencies, which have turned into for-profit corporations. . . . There are a lot of such cases all over the country.

Today, the State Duma promised to soften Art. 228.