Russia detains ex-journalist, accuses him of passing secrets to West

Russian authorities on Tuesday detained a former journalist who works as an aide to the head of Russia's space agency and accused him of state treason, Roscosmos said, a charge that could see him jailed for up to two decades if found guilty.

Ivan Safronov accused of working for an unnamed foreign intelligence service

Ivan Safronov, seen here at the Kommersant newspaper office in Moscow on Jan. 10, 2016, was on Tuesday detained on treason charges. (Peter Kassin/Kommersant/Reuters)

Russian security forces on Tuesday detained a former journalist who works as an aide to the head of Russia's space agency and accused him of treason, saying he had passed military secrets to an unnamed NATO power.

Footage released by the FSB security service showed Ivan Safronov being detained outside his Moscow flat by armed agents who searched him before putting him into a van.

He could later be heard saying "I'm not guilty" as masked agents led him past reporters to a court hearing that was closed to the public.

The court ruled he should be held in pretrial detention for two months until Sept. 6, a decision his lawyers said they would appeal.

Safronov, who has covered military affairs for two national newspapers, faces up to two decades in jail if found guilty. His trial is expected to be held behind closed doors because of its sensitive nature.

Safronov is detained by members of Russia's Federal Security Service in Moscow. (The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation/Reuters)

It is the first time in nearly two decades that a journalist has been accused of treason in Russia, said Ivan Pavlov, a prominent defence lawyer.

Safronov's detention raised fears among journalists of a new wave of repression, and staff at Kommersant, one of his former newspapers, said in an editorial that the allegations looked absurd because he was a real patriot.

Some of Safronov's former journalist colleagues protested outside FSB headquarters before being detained.

The FSB accused Safronov of working for an unnamed foreign intelligence service.

"Safronov, carrying out tasks for one of the NATO countries' intelligence services, gathered and handed over to its representative state secrets and information about military-technical co-operation and about the defence and security of the Russian Federation," it said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he did not believe the charges were related to Safronov's work as a journalist.

The space agency said Safronov had no access to secrets and the case was not related to his work there.