Twenty Journalists

Twenty. This is the number of journalists the London Independent says have been murdered since Putin became president of Russia. Now whether the Kremlin is directly behind these crimes is difficult to say. In fact I am apt to say that it is not. There are enough nefarious gangsters, businessmen, regional chinovniki, and current and former chekisty to do the deed without a sanction from above. However, I do agree with the idea that the Putin is still culpable because as the Independent says, he is “presiding over a country where it appears that the murder of journalists goes unpunished.” Adding,

Few of the killings are as overtly political as the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down last October at the entrance to her apartment block. In that case it seemed clear that her death was sanctioned by someone powerful, who wanted her silenced. Most cases are much murkier, however; they can be seen as a brutal form of punishment for reporters who delve too deeply into Russia’s sinister intersection of business, organised crime and the state’s legal and security apparatus.

Working for a nationally known outlet such as Kommersant might be seen as some protection, though that did not save Ms Politkovskaya or two other journalists who worked for Novaya Gazeta, a fortnightly newspaper. She wrote that it received “visitors every day … who have nowhere else to bring their troubles, because the Kremlin finds their stories off-message, so that the only place they can be aired is in our newspaper”.

Pursuing corruption in the provinces, however, can be lonelier and even more dangerous. Two editors of a local newspaper in Togliatti, a city on the Volga east of Moscow, were murdered in succession. So was the director of the local TV station.

Death is not the only occupational hazard for reporters who show too much investigative zeal. Around 50 court cases are pursued against journalists every year in an attempt to muzzle them, while some 150 are seriously assaulted each year.

Here is the tragic list of the twenty:

  • Ivan Safronov
    Military affairs specialist for daily national newspaper ‘Kommersant’. Was investigating a Kremlin arms deal with the Middle East. Found dead on 2 March after ‘falling’ from a window in his Moscow home in suspicious circumstances.
  • Anna Politkovskaya
    Crusading investigative reporter specialising in Chechnya, attached to fortnightly national newspaper ‘Novaya Gazeta’. Shot dead in a contract killing outside her apartment block in Moscow on 7 October 2006.
  • Vyacheslav Plotnikov
    Reporter for a local TV channel in Voronezh. His body was found in a forest on 15 September 2006, dressed in someone else’s clothes. No signs of a violent death, but his colleagues are convinced that he was murdered.
  • Yevgeny Gerasimenko
    Investigative reporter on regional newspaper ‘Saratovsky Rasklad’ who had been looking into shady local business dealings. Found dead on 25 July 2006 in his flat, where he had been tortured and suffocated with a plastic bag.
  • Alexander Pitersky
    Presenter on the St Petersburg radio station Baltika, who sometimes covered criminal investigations. His body was found in his flat, where he had been stabbed to death, on 30 August 2005.
  • Magomedzagid Varisov
    A press commentator in his native Dagestan, where he also ran a think-tank, Varisov had criticised local politicians. Killed in a machine gun attack in Mahachkala, the capital of Dagestan, on 28 June 2005.
  • Pavel Makeev
    Cameraman for Puls, a local TV station in southern Russia. Died on 21 May 2005 while covering illegal street racing in the town of Azov. His car was rammed by an unknown vehicle and his camera and tapes taken.
  • Paul Klebnikov
    US citizen of Russian extraction. As editor of the Russian edition of ‘Forbes’ magazine, he put together the country’s first rich list and specialised in corruption investigations. Shot dead in a contract killing in Moscow on 9 July 2004.
  • Aleksei Sidorov
    The second editor of local newspaper ‘The Togliatti Overview’ to be murdered in as many years. He was stabbed in the chest with an ice pick or similar sharp object outside his apartment block on 9 October 2003.
  • Yuri Shchekochikhin
    Investigative journalist, liberal MP and deputy editor of ‘Novaya Gazeta’. Specialised in investigating corruption in the general prosecutor’s office. Died on 3 July 2003 after an unexplained allergic reaction. His colleagues believe he was poisoned.
  • Dmitry Shvets
    A senior executive at a local Murmansk TV station, TV-21 Northwestern Broadcasting. Had been highly critical of local officialdom. Shot dead outside the station’s offices on 18 April 2003.
  • Valery Ivanov
    Editor of ‘The Togliatti Overview’ and managing editor of the independent channel Lada-TV, specialising in crime and corruption in the local car industry. Shot dead in his car on 29 April 2002.
  • Natalya Skryl
    Business reporter on ‘Our Time’, a local newspaper based in Rostov-on-Don, investigating controversial dealings in a local metals plant. Died on her way home after being beaten with a heavy object on 8 March 2002.
  • Eduard Markevich
    Editor of ‘Novy Reft’, a local newspaper in the town of Reftinsky, Sverdlovsk region, who was critical of regional authorities. After a series of threatening phone calls, he was shot dead in the back on 19 September 2001.
  • Adam Tepsurgayev
    TV cameraman for Reuters who filmed exclusive footage of the conflict in Chechnya. Shot dead in the village of Alkhan-Kala on 23 November 2000 by masked gunmen who burst into his home.
  • Sergey Ivanov
    Director of the Lada-TV station in Togliatti. Showed an interest in the area’s notoriously corrupt car manufacturing business. Shot five times outside his apartment building on 3 October 2000.
  • Iskandar Khatloni
    Journalist investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya for the Tajik- language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Killed by an axe-wielding attacker in Moscow on 21 September 2000.
  • Sergey Novikov
    Senior executive at the Vesna radio station in Smolensk. Claimed to be able to prove corruption among high-ranking local officials. Shot dead on 26 July 2000, in the lobby of his apartment building.
  • Igor Domnikov
    Investigative reporter on ‘Novaya Gazeta’. Died on 16 July 2000 after being attacked with a hammer in the lobby of his Moscow apartment block. His newspaper believes his murder was a case of mistaken identity.
  • Artyom Borovik
    Senior executive at investigative magazine ‘Completely Secret’ that exposed the misdeeds of the rich and powerful. Died on 3 March 2000 in a plane crash that the authorities believe may not have been accidental.