Ivan Safronov was one of the most prominent and respected journalists reporting on defence issues in Russia. He worked until May 2020 for two major Russian newspapers before becoming an adviser for the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
Safronov is now accused of passing state secrets related to arms sales and security to an unnamed NATO country, the Russian Federal Intelligence Service said.
According to Safronov's lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, these accusations are related to his work as a journalist. Pavlov claimed that this is "the first time in nearly 20 years that a reporter had been accused of state treason in Russia".
This version was supported by Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, who said the arrest is not related to his current job because Safronov "does not have access to secret information".
The prominent journalist pleaded not guilty and may face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of high treason.
The arrest sparked outrage in Moscow, where dozens of protesters took to the streets to protest. According to media reports, twenty people were detained in the protests.
"The RUJ is extremely concerned about the situation with the arrest of Safronov and the detention of journalists protesting over his arrest. Detentions of journalists during solo protests are against the law. The legal service of the Union will monitor the progress of the process and is ready to assist our colleagues", the RUJ said.
IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: "This is a hazardous development in Russia. We urge the Russian authorities to drop all charges against him and stop the crackdown on media".