March 2, 2011

Mr. Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Fax: +7 095 206 5173

Mr. Chaika Yuri Yakovlevich
Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Ishaya Dmitrovka 1 a GSP e
Moscow 12599 3
Fax +7 095 292 88 48

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to welcome the pledge by Russian investigators to re-open investigations into the murders of journalists Valery Ivanov, Aleksei Sidorov, Natalia Skryl, Yuri Shchekochikhin, and Vagif Kochetkov.

According to our information, Valery Ivanov, aged 32, was editor of the Tolyatinskoye Oibozreniye when he was shot dead in the southern city of Togliatti on April 29, 2002. His successor, Editor-in-chief Aleksei Sidorov, died in Togliatti on October 10, 2003, following a knife attack. According to the Public Prosecutor, his murder appeared to be a contract killing. Former colleagues believe that these crimes were connected to Chechen criminal gangs, about whose activities Tolyatinskoye Oibozreniye had been quite critical.

Natalia Skryl, aged 29, journalist for Nasha Vremia, was killed on March 8, 2002, near her home in Taganrog. Skryl was a business journalist who covered issues of corporate corruption. It is believed that her murder may stem from her reporting of a power struggle at a local metallurgy plant.

Journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin died on July 2, 2003. He had been in a coma for five days following what official reports described as an “acute allergic reaction,” though it is suspected that he was poisoned. Shchekochikhin had received death threats following allegations he made of malpractice within the state judiciary.

Vagif Kochetkov, aged 31, journalist for the Moscow daily Trud as well as local newspaper Tulskii Molodoi Kommunar, died on January 8, 2006, following injuries he received during an attack on December 27, 2005. Kochetkov’s colleagues said that he had received numerous death threats by telephone for his reporting, specifically related to his criticism of a pharmaceutical company and organized crime.

PEN American Center believes that Valery Ivanov, Aleksei Sidorov, Natalia Skryl, Yuri Shchekochikhin, and Vagif Kochetkov were all murdered because of their journalistic work, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a signatory. We understand that in 2010 approximately 40 journalists were attacked and there have been 19 unsolved murders of journalists since 2000. We therefore urge the Federal Investigative Committee to ensure that the investigation into these five murders is full and thorough, and we call on authorities to unequivocally condemn all attacks on the independent press in an effort to end to the climate of impunity that exists in Russia.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                                              
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee           
Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Mr. Sergey I. Kislyak
Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States
Embassy of the Russian Federation to the Untied States
2650 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Fax: (202) 298-5735

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