Ivan Golunov
© Sputnik / Grigory Sysoev
Ivan Golunov after his exoneration.
Ivan Golunov, the investigative journalist detained by Moscow in a suspected set-up that triggered a wave of public discontent, has told RT that he's shocked his story has received so much attention. He said he didn't expect the massive outpouring of support at home and abroad. Speaking in an exclusive interview with RT, the journalist said he was grateful to his supporters.

Golunov, who specializes in investigating corruption among Moscow officials, was snatched from the street in central Moscow on Thursday last week and accused by the police of being a drug dealer. The police offered sketchy evidence to support their allegation, while the journalist claimed that he had been framed by corrupt officers.

The news resulted in several days of demonstrations in Moscow and other cities, and an unprecedented wave of pressure on the government. Journalists and public figures also demanded a thorough inquiry into the alleged abuse of power by the police. Three leading newspapers printed nearly identical front pages on Monday, running a joint statement in support of Golunov.

The public outrage over the case was partially fueled by Golunov's account of being abused while in police custody. He said he was denied his right to legal representation for hours and even physically abused by the police.

"At the time of my detention, my aim was to obtain the presence of a lawyer," he said, explaining that since he was expecting dirty tricks from the cops, he was mostly focused on preventing such actions, rather than being afraid or angry about the situation.

He said being accused of dealing drugs seemed especially absurd to him.
Drugs for me is an absurd topic, I have never been associated with them. If there was any more plausible accusation, I might have had some emotions.
On Tuesday this week, Russia's interior minister announced that all charges against Golonov had been dropped due to a lack of substantive evidence against him. The police officers suspected of planting drugs to justify prosecution are now suspended and are the subject of an investigation. Two Moscow police generals have lost their jobs over the scandal.

The journalist says he didn't learn about the scale of support for him until his first court appearance a few days after his detention, which ended with him being placed under house arrest.

"I saw and heard support of people already in court when I was in a cage, and through the closed windows I heard shots and exclamations. I was moved," he said.

Only after the charges were dropped did Golunov realize the scale of the public outcry over his situation. "I am very grateful to everyone who supported me, who went to rallies. I can't even imagine it when my friends tell me that even in Tokyo there was a rally in honor of me."

Golunov said that he has yet to digest what happened to him and really regrets the publicity that came with it.

"I really wish I could go back and make it unhappen. Then I could go along and do my job which I really love despite saying often about how I'm tired to do it," he said. "People recognize me. I had to buy a cap from a street cleaner and start wearing sunglasses to calm things down."
When you stop for a smoke and strangers come and say: 'Is that you? Our congratulations, we have been rooting for you' - that is somewhat of a surprise. The scale of it is yet to sink in.
Golunov added he is yet to determine whether national fame is compatible with being an investigative journalist. What he does know is that he wants to effect positive change, but it probably won't be through capitalizing on his newfound name recognition.

"If I can be of help, I will be," he said.