Russia has charged former military journalist Ivan Safronov with state treason, accusations that have sent a chill through Russia’s media community which has protested against what it said is his unfair treatment.
The move came on Monday, following the arrest last week over the accusation that Safronov, – who left journalism and in May became an adviser at Russia’s space agency – passed military secrets to the Czech Republic.
He faces up to 20 years in jail if found guilty of a charge he denies.
Police took about a dozen journalists in custody on Monday after they gathered outside Safronov’s detention facility to offer their support in a case they said is shrouded in unacceptable secrecy.
Details are sparse given its sensitive nature and his trial is likely to be held behind closed doors.
Ivan Pavlov, his lawyer, said last week that the information he is accused of handing over concerned Russian arms deliveries to the Middle East and Africa.
Pavlov cited investigators as saying the secrets were later shared with the United States.
“Of course, this case was fabricated, it is intimidation,” said Arina Borodina, one of the journalists arrested on Monday.
A petition demanding that officials declassify the case, spell out the allegations against him and publish key evidence has so far been signed by 55,000 people.
Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, has advised Russians not to pressure investigators.
Safronov, who used to work for the Kommersant and Vedomosti dailies, was part of the Kremlin pool, the reporters accredited to cover events with President Vladimir Putin.
In an unusual move, reporters from that group posted a video in which they spoke out in his defence.
“Vanya (Safronov) is a real patriot. There are few people like that. And people like that aren’t spies,” said Kira Latukhina, a journalist for Russia’s government newspaper.