The closure of the “hunting season” against a Novaya Gazeta journalist does not guarantee that history of this kind will not be repeated in the future.
—Russian PEN

Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Investigative Committee, has issued a public apology following the outcry against the extraordinary events in early June where he took independent journalist Sergei Sokolov into an isolated forest and threatened his life. Russian PEN has responded that this is insufficient and is little reassurance that journalists will be protected from future such attacks.

Background Information

On June 4, 2012, Alexander Bastrykin drove Sergei Sokolov to a forest on the outskirts of Moscow, where he castigated then threatened Sokolov over an article in Novaya Gazeta accusing the Investigative Committee of failing in its investigations into a mass murder. Sokolov subsequently fled Russia. For further details, see previous Rapid Action 6/15/12.
On June 13, Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, three of whose journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, have been murdered in recent years, issued a public letter demanding an apology. He also demanded that Bastrykin guarantee the safety of Sokolov and all journalists. Soon after, Bastrykin made a public apology, taking an extraordinary step for such a high ranking official and stating that he had had an “emotional breakdown.” Novaya Gazeta’s chief editor stated:  “Everything that I demanded in the letter has been satisfied.” The New York Times reports that Bastrykin had also spoken by phone with Sokolov, offering apologies and a wristwatch as a “token of conciliation.”
However, there are many who consider this insufficient and that Bastrykin should face disciplinary action. Russian PEN is among them and issued the following statement addressed to President Putin on June 15:

Dear Mr. President,
You, of course, are aware of the incident involving the Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Alexander Bastrykin, and the deputy editor of
Novaya Gazeta, Sergey Sokolov. Your intervention and the apology delivered by Mr. Bastrykin to the newspaper’s chief editor and his deputy cannot explain this incident.
We believe that a mere apology in this case is clearly not enough. It does not settle the issue. The incident goes far beyond relations between top officials and a single editorial staff person. This ugly act committed by your colleague is your challenge for the whole journalistic community, and furthermore, civil society, the development of which you have repeatedly highlighted. The closure of the "hunting season" against a
Novaya Gazeta journalist does not guarantee that history of this kind will not be repeated in the future. Impunity for Mr. Bastrykin serves as a signal to the regional authorities, and therefore does not have much impact on what is going on with journalists working for the local media.
In contrast, an investigation into the official’s actions by the leadership of the country would be a sign that the government was ready for an open and honest dialogue with its people.
Russian PEN Center Board Members
Andrey Bitov
Alexey Simonov
Igor Irtenyev
Evgeniy Bunimovich
Boris Evseev
Viktor Erofeev
Konstantin Kedrov
Lev Timofeev
Ludmila Ulitskaya

More information:

Write A Letter

  • Calling for an investigation into the threats made against Sergei Sokolov;
  • Expressing alarm about the implications that this event has on the state of free expression and journalist safety in Russia;
  • Urging the Russian authorities to make clear its commitments to the promotion and protection of freedom of expression as per its obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a signatory.

Send Your Letter To

Mr. Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
Fax: +7 095 206 5173 / 230 2408
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Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Russia in your country if possible.