(New York, NY) — The arrest in Russia of highly-regarded former journalist Ivan Safronov and the uncertainty around the charges he faces raise concerns this may be yet another case in a series of trumped-up charges against dissidents in Russia, PEN America said in a statement today.

On July 7, Russia’s secret police arrested the former journalist and current space agency Roscosmos employee Ivan Safronov, accusing him of treason. The Federal Security Service claimed that Safronov was suspected in aiding the intelligence services of a NATO country and passing on classified information regarding the Russian Federation. But authorities said the accusations were not related to his work at Roscosmos, raising the concern they could be in connection to his work as a journalist. If convicted, Safronov could spend up to 20 years in jail. Due to the sensitivity of the case, Safronov will face trial behind closed doors and may face additional difficulties accessing his lawyers. 

“The Russian government’s actions against journalists and others speaking truth to power are reaching deplorable levels,” said Polina Sadovskaya, Eurasia program director at PEN America. “While the details of the case are still unclear, the possibility that Safronov is being charged with treason for essentially doing his job as a journalist is alarming. As in many other cases targeting journalists, treason charges enable the government to hide behind closed-door trials, where gross injustices can go unchecked. PEN America urges the Russian authorities to cease harassing journalists for doing their jobs, and to ensure Safronov receives a fair, unimpeded trial.”

Safronov comes from a family of journalists. His father, a reporter for the outlet Kommersant, fell to his death from a fifth story window in 2007 after breaking a series of stories embarrassing to Russia’s military leaders. His death is widely viewed as suspicious.

Safronov contributed to several non-state-affiliated publications in Russia, including Kommersant and Vedomosti, neither of which has obvious access to confidential state information. Several journalists have come forward in defense of Safronov, calling the accusations “inconceivable” and attesting to his “highest professionalism and character”. Safronov’s name is now added to the long list of persecuted journalists, including Svetlana Prokopieva (RFE/RL), Petr Verzilov (Mediazona), David Frenkel (Mediazona), Taisiya Bekbulatova (Holod Media), Ilya Azar (Novaya Gazeta), among others.