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MOSCOW: A Russian court on Monday sentenced ex-journalist Ivan Safronov to 22 years in a penal colony after finding him guilty of treason, in a landmark case for the Kremlin’s crackdown on press freedom.

Safronov, a former defence reporter for the Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers turned adviser to the head of Russia’s space agency, was arrested in 2020 and accused of disclosing classified information.

Safronov’s lawyers told the RIA Novosti news agency they will appeal the verdict.

His supporters say the case is retribution for his reporting which exposed details of Russia’s international arms deals.

“Everybody who is close to Safronov believes the charge of treason is absurd,” journalist Katerina Gordeeva said after interviewing his mother, sister and former colleagues for a documentary about the case.

Ahead of the sentencing, the European Union called on Russia to drop all charges against Safronov, 32, and release him unconditionally.

Prosecutors said Safronov shared state secrets about Russia’s arms sales in the Middle East to the Czech Republic’s foreign intelligence arm. He has denied the charges throughout and last month rejected a plea deal that would have seen him serve a 12-year prison sentence.

Safronov strongly denied the charges and said that the information he is alleged to have passed to the Czech Republic was all open source public information.

During the trial his legal team published links to 19 published articles and government statements that prosecutors claim constitute the “state secrets” Safronov is alleged to have passed to Czech foreign intelligence.

“Ivan never sent any secret information anywhere - for money or for free. All the prosecution’s witnesses stated in court that he was not engaged in criminal activity. He was an ordinary journalist, honestly doing his job,” his lawyers said in a statement.

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