A court in Moscow on Friday sentenced five former policemen to several years in jail for planting drugs on a prominent investigative journalist, local media reported.

The arrest of reporter Ivan Golunov in June 2019 on trumped-up drug charges sparked an outcry with activists and Kremlin critics calling for his release.

Golunov, 38, was released days later after an unprecedented campaign in his support, and the five police officers who arrested him were dismissed and taken into custody in January 2020.

Igor Lyakhovets, who investigators said directed the operation but denied his guilt, was sentenced to 12 years in a penal colony.

Ivan Golunov is a prominent investigative journalist
Ivan Golunov is a prominent investigative journalist AFP / Vasily MAXIMOV

Three of his subordinates, who also pleaded not guilty, were each handed eight years in jail.

The fifth defendant confessed to the crime and received a more lenient sentence of five years.

The former policemen were also ordered to pay Golunov 1 million rubles ($13,600) each in compensation.

Golunov is a prominent reporter known for his detailed investigations into the power structures in Russia, including the shady funeral industry and corruption at Moscow city hall.

His supporters and employer -- the independent Russian-language media outlet Meduza -- said the drugs had been planted on him as revenge for his work.