In a surprising turnaround, Russia's interior ministry dropped drug-dealing charges against a prominent investigative reporter today and promised to go after police officers who allegedly tried to frame him.
Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev stunned the nation when he announced that all charges against Ivan Golunov were dropped after police found "no proof of his part in a crime." Golunov was arrested Friday.
Kolokoltsev said he would ask the Russian president to dismiss two senior police officials and suspend the officers who detained the journalist Friday. Among those who are likely to be dismissed is the anti-drugs chief of the Moscow police.
"I believe that the rights of any citizen, whatever his professional affiliation, ought to be protected," the minister said.
Golunov, who works for the independent website Meduza, had been facing drug-related charges that could have put him in prison for up to 20 years.
Prominent journalists and politicians welcomed the decision to abandon the case.
Mikhail Fedotov, a presidential adviser and chairman of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, hailed the announcement as a "victory of common sense."
He urged the police to investigate those responsible for what looked like an attempt to discredit Golunov by setting him up to look like a professional drug dealer.
"We are convinced that this story should not stop here because those who are guilty of making mockery of the law ought to face justice," Fedotov said in a statement.
Golunov was stopped by police on a Moscow street and taken into custody. His defence team alleges he was beaten and denied a lawyer for more than 12 hours.
On Sunday, he was released from jail and put under house arrest following a public outpouring of support, including from high-profile journalists for state-owned media.
Many have questioned the alleged evidence in the case.
Police on Saturday released several photos, reportedly from the journalist's home, of what appeared to be a drugs lab. They later retracted the statement, saying that the pictures were taken elsewhere. In a separate statement later, the police said they found cocaine at his place.
The speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament was the first top official today to raise concerns about the case.
Valentina Matviyenko, who is Russia's third most senior official after the president and prime minister, said the law enforcement agencies' "mistakes and violations ... have given rise to distrust in the investigation."
"People are either being unprofessional, or sloppy, or preparing a setup," she said in comments carried by Russian news agencies. "I don't know right now what to call it."
Some expressed hope the case would push Russian authorities to confront abuse of power by police.
"I think this will lead to a major reshuffle in law enforcement in relation to those who plotted this setup," Pavel Gusev, chairman of the Moscow chapter of the Russian Union of Journalists, told the Interfax news agency.