Police say a Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov who was detained this week for alleged drug offences had been taken to hospital, Russian news agencies report.

A police officer stands in front of a bus with reporters detained after a rally in support of detained journalist Ivan Golunov, in Moscow, Russia, June 7, 2019.
A police officer stands in front of a bus with reporters detained after a rally in support of detained journalist Ivan Golunov, in Moscow, Russia, June 7, 2019. (Reuters)

A prominent investigative journalist who was detained on drug-dealing charges in Russia is being taken to the hospital after complaining of feeling poorly in police custody.

The Moscow police department said Saturday that an emergency medical squad was called for Ivan Golunov and determined he should be taken a hospital for examination.

It did not specify Golunov's medical problem. 

The head of human rights organisation Agora, Pavel Chikov, told Russian news agencies Golunov was suspected to have a concussion and a broken rib.

Russian police have charged Golunov with attempting to deal a "large amount" of illegal drugs, his lawyer said Saturday.

"Ivan Golunov has been charged as a defendant -- attempted dealing," his lawyer Pavel Chikov wrote on Telegram messenger service, posting a police document showing the charge against the Meduza news site journalist involving  cocaine and mephedrone.

Golunov has been charged with drug dealing after four grams of the synthetic stimulant mephedrone were found in his backpack, Moscow police said Friday.

Golunov, who works for the independent website Meduza, was stopped by police in central Moscow on Thursday afternoon. Police also said that more drugs were found at his home.

Meduza's director general, Galina Timchenko, told The Associated Press that Golunov, one of the most prominent investigative journalists in Russia, was beaten while in detention and denied medical tests that would show he has not handled drugs.

Timchenko said she has photos that show the impact on the left side of his face.

Moscow police denied the accusations of beating.

Golunov appeared in court on Saturday. His lawyer said that his client was not allowed to contact his family or lawyer for 12 hours after he was detained.

Russian journalist Ivan Golunov is seen in Moscow, Russia, on this October 27, 2018.
Russian journalist Ivan Golunov is seen in Moscow, Russia, on this October 27, 2018. (Reuters)

Protests

Golunov's colleagues and other journalists went to the headquarters of the Moscow police Friday afternoon to protest what many saw as blatant retribution for a journalist's work.

An organisation that tracks politically connected arrests, OVD-Info, said 11 journalists were detained at the protest, but later released without charges.

In the evening, a queue of demonstrators assembled outside the headquarters, each in turn holding a sign in support of Golunov. Single protest pickets are permitted without prior authorisation under Russian law.

Golunov, 36, has recently received threats linked to a story he was pursuing, Timchenko said.

"We are convinced that Ivan Golunov is innocent," Timchenko's Meduza said in a statement.

"What's more, we have reasons to believe that Golunov is being persecuted for his journalism. We know that Vanya (Golunov) has been receiving threats in recent months, and we know which particular unfinished story they relate to."

Police officers detain a man protesting against the arrest of journalist Ivan Golunov outside the headquarters of the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry in Moscow on June 7, 2019.
Police officers detain a man protesting against the arrest of journalist Ivan Golunov outside the headquarters of the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry in Moscow on June 7, 2019. (AFP)

Meduza was founded in 2014 by a group of journalists who left a popular Russian news website after their editor was fired. 

The website is based in Riga, Latvia, as the journalists fear that an increasing wave of media censorship and restrictive internet laws in Russia make any editorial office there vulnerable to government pressure. 

While most of Meduza's staff is based in Riga, special correspondents like Golunov are working in Russia.

Moscow police attached nine photos to its statement about Golunov's detention, some of which showed bags with white substance and big empty bottles suggestive of a makeshift drugs lab at his home.

Pictures of raid

A friend of the journalist, Alexander Urzhanov, told the AP that he had been to Golunov's home and that the pictures could not have been taken at the tiny apartment.

"What has been published doesn't look like an apartment: there's a cement floor, wood on the walls," he said.

"Vanya's apartment had white walls. I can't imagine all of the stuff in those pictures can be fitted in the apartment that I have been to so that no one would notice."

Moscow police later amended its statement and deleted the pictures. Police said that those pictures were related to a drugs raid in the Moscow region, and that they were looking into possible links between the drug dealers' group there and Golunov.

Corruption investigations

Golunov rose to prominence in recent years with his corruption investigations into Moscow's city government and the crime-ridden funeral market.

Peers described Golunov as one of Russia's most dogged investigative reporters and expressed dismay at the circumstances of the case.

"This is totally incredible and is not in his character that he would give up what he's been doing and start making money in this way," Alexander Baunov of the Moscow Carnegie Center told the AP. Baunov has known Golunov since 2004 when they worked at the same publishing house.

The allegations of a thriving drugs business run by an investigative reporter stunned Russia's journalism community, long accustomed to arbitrary detentions and violence, and raised concerns about police actions.

"Golunov's detention is not so much about the crackdown on journalists," prominent TV journalist Alexei Pivovarov tweeted.

"It's about the fact that they can come after anyone. Because it's dead easy to find a drugs lab at your place."

Amnesty International also raised concerns about Golunov's detention.

"Everything indicates that the authorities are planting drugs on their targets to shut them up with a jail sentence," Nataliya Zviagina, the director of Amnesty's Russia office, said in a statement.

"Ivan Golunov is a prominent critic and his investigations into government corruption clearly did not go down well with the authorities. It seems he is now paying the price."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies