International PEN is alarmed by the increased levels of physical violence against print journalists in Russia. In the first four months of 2009, four were murdered, and four others seriously attacked, most likely for the practice of their professions. PEN condemns these acts of violence and urges the Russian authorities to initiate full and impartial investigations into these incidents, and to bring those responsible to justice. PEN also calls on the Russian authorities to unequivocally condemn all attacks on the independent press and to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of journalists.

Background Information

PEN has received reports of serious attacks against four print journalists so far in 2009. All are based outside Moscow and had been reporting on corruption or had criticized local politics. As is clear in at least one of these cases, police are reluctant to consider the assaults to be politically motivated. As for the cases of those who have been murdered, prosecutions of those who carry out these crimes are rare. PEN observes that attacks that are carried out outside Moscow are even less likely to be properly investigated.
 
Yury Grachev, editor of the weekly Solnechnogorsky Forum, was reportedly attacked in the town of Solnechnogork, 65 km northwest of Moscow, on February 3, 2009. His neighbors found him at the entrance of his home, unconscious and bleeding. The Solnechnogorsky Forum had been covering corruption and had been critical of the local authorities, and as a consequence, a number of local officials and businessmen were charged with corruption in 2007. Grachev’s briefcase, which held material for the following issue of the weekly, reportedly went missing during the attack.

In Saratov, southern Russia, Vladim Rogozhin, managing director of the media holding company Vzglyad, was assaulted by two unidentified men on March 5, 2009. He was beaten on the head in the corridor of his apartment. There was no robbery. Rogozhin assumed his managerial position in January 2009 and had previously worked for the newspaper Saratovsky Vzglyadan, a news agency and a TV station. He reported on corruption in various levels of the regional government, and it is believed that the attack could be linked to his work.

Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Korruptsiya i Prestupnost (Corruption and Crime), based in Rostov-on-Don, southwestern Russia, was found unconscious at the foot of a staircase at the entry to his building on April 30, 2009. He had suffered injuries to his head, and after undergoing surgery remains in critical condition. Yaroshenko’s colleagues believe he was attacked because of his journalistic work. Soon after the editor was taken to the hospital, the police reportedly stated that he had been involved in a fight during the evening of April 29. Later, the police gave yet another version of the events, saying the editor hurt himself while drunk by falling down the stairs. On May 4, 2009, there were reports that the police had so far refused to register the attack as a crime.

On March 12, 2009, Maxim Zolotarev, editor of the newspaper Molva Yuzhnoye Podmoskovye, distributed in Serpukhov, a town situated 99 km south of Moscow, reported being assaulted while walking to his car near his flat. Zolotarev was stopped by three unidentified men who got out of a car and hit him with an iron bar after discharging a gas pistol into his face. The newspaper is reportedly critical of local politicians. Zolotarev considered this attack as a warning and decided to stop his journalistic work.

These attacks come in the wake of four murders that have shaken the journalistic community in Russia since the beginning of 2009. In its 2008 report, the Committee to Protect Journalists states that since 1999, 16 journalists have been murdered in Russia for reporting on cases of corruption, and that only one of these deaths had been solved.  The rest of the killings, as the ones occurring this year, are yet to be investigated by the authorities.

One of the most shocking of the recent killings was the double murder of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasiya Baburova, a lawyer and journalist, respectively, for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who were shot dead in a Moscow street on January 20, 2009. They were attacked as they left a press conference at the Independent Press Center. Markelov, the apparent intended target of the assault, was first to be attacked. Baburova attempted to apprehend the gunman as he fled, and was herself shot.

Sergey Protazanov, journalist for the newspaper Grazhdanskoye, died in Moscow on March 30, 2009, two months after the Novaya Gazeta attack. There are reports that he had been badly beaten prior to his death. Earlier, on January 5, 2009, Shafig Amrakhov, editor of the online regional agency RIA 51, died from gunshot wounds in a Murmansk hospital in the northwest of the country. He had been shot near his home on December 30, 2008.

Write A Letter

  • Condemning the high levels of violence against journalists in Russia;
  • Urging the Russian authorities to initiate a full and impartial investigation into these assaults, and to bring those responsible to justice;
  • Calling on the Russian authorities to unequivocally condemn all attacks on the independent press and to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of journalists.

Send Your Letter To

Mr. Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Kremlin
Moscow
Russia
Fax: +7 095 206 5173 / 230 2408
Email: president@gov.ru

Mr. Chaika Yuri Yakovlevich
Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Ishaya Dmitrovka, 15a GSP 3
Moscow 125993
Russia
Fax: +7 095 292 88 48

Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov
Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation
Ul. Zhitnaia 14
119 991 Moscow GSP1
Russian Federation
Fax: + 7 495 955 57 79

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Russia in your country if possible.

Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after June 15, 2009: ftw[at]pen.org