Remembering the Russian Writers on PEN’s Case List
As we wrap up an intense and informative week with our visiting delegation of writers from Russia, we wanted to remind everyone who has been paying attention about the Russian writers who remain on PEN’s case list, many of whom have been killed with impunity. It serves as a sobering reminder that there is still much work to be done.
The following cases from Russia appear on PEN’s case list, a documentation of 900 cases of writers at risk worldwide. PEN uses this case list to track the persecution of writers and to document the tactics used by states and other actors to repress freedom of expression around the world.
Akhmednabiev was the deputy chief editor of a leading independent weekly in Dagestan Novoe Delo and a regular contributor to the Caucasian Knot, an online newspaper that covers the Caucasus region in English and Russian. Akhmednabiev was murdered on July 9, 2013, by unidentified assailants outside his home in the village of Semender near the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala. Russian authorities have stated that they believe Akhmednabiev’s murder was related to his reporting on corruption and human rights in Dagestan, and said they had launched a criminal investigation. However, there have been no reported arrests and no suspects have been named in his murder.
On July 15, 2009, Estemirova, a journalist and human rights defender, was abducted by four gunmen on her way to work in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. She was found dead later that day in the woodlands in neighboring Ingushetia with five bullet wounds to her chest and head. It is reported that at the time of her murder, Estemirova was working on a sensitive case investigating the alleged involvement of Chechen police officers in the public execution of local resident Rizvan Albekov. Investigation of this possible link between Albekov’s execution and Estemirova’s murder was not pursued and, to date, no one has been arrested for her murder.
Kamalov was a journalist and founder of the independent Dagestan-based weekly newspaper Chernovik, which frequently addressed highly sensitive topics, such as reports of police abuses in neighboring Chechnya. He was shot and killed by a masked assailant on December 15, 2011, as he was leaving the offices of Chernovik in Makhachkala. Federal investigators from the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office took over investigation of Kamalov’s death on May 28, 2012, at the request of about 100 deputies in the Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower chamber. To date, there has been no arrest.
Kuashev was a freelance journalist and correspondent for Dosh, a prominent independent magazine focused on the North Caucasus, the Caucasian Knot, and Caucasus Politics. He was found dead in a wooded area on the outskirts of Nalchick, capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, on August 1, 2014, after his mother alerted the police that he had not shown up at home for several hours. At first, a representative of the local authorities stated that Kuashev’s body bore no marks of violence and nothing indicated his death was a crime. However, Kuashev’s colleague, local human rights lawyer Rustam Matsev, told Human Rights Watch that the autopsy noted the trace of a needle prick under Kuashev’s arm and the forensics team took samples of Kuashev’s blood and bodily fluids to test for toxins. In September 2014, it was reported in the press that regional prosecutors had opened a murder case after determining that Kuashev was killed because of his professional activities. To date, no investigation results have been released and there have been no arrests in his murder. Kuashev often wrote about the persecution of Muslims in the region, including allegations of police abuse and fair trial violations. He was also active on social media.
On October 7, 2006, Politkovskaya, a prominent journalist and human rights activist, was found murdered in her apartment building in central Moscow. She had been shot once in the shoulder, twice in the chest, and once in the head at point-blank range. Politkovskaya had produced a large body of work on human rights abuses in Chechnya and was an outspoken critic of Putin and the Russian-backed administration in Chechnya led by Akhmad and Ramzan Kadryov. She worked for Novaya Gazeta, a biweekly newspaper with a history of strong investigative reporting critical of the Putin and Kadryov regimes. She was also the author of a number of books including A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya and Putin’s Russia. For her work, she had faced numerous death threats and was subjected to a mock execution. Additionally, she was detained in Chechnya in 2001 and was poisoned then and again in 2004, while she was attempting to investigate the human rights abuses against Chechen civilians. In May 2014, after a lengthy retrial, five men were convicted of her murder, including three men who were previously acquitted. However, those who ordered the killing have not yet been identified or punished.
Reznik is a blogger and journalist who contributed to regional news websites, such as Yuzhny Federalny. His articles criticized municipal and regional authorities and alleged corruption and abuses. In February 2012, he reported phone threats against him, and in October 2012, he was attacked outside of his apartment by men with baseball bats who beat him and then shot at him. Reznik was jailed in November 2013 on charges of insult, bribery, and deliberately misleading authorities. The charges alleged insult against the police and the local deputy prosecutor. The court ruled that Reznik had arranged the phone threats against himself, accusing him of “wishing to draw public and media attention against his personality” and “seeking to raise his professional rating.” Reznik denied the charges and said they are politically motivated. On November 26, 2013, he was sentenced to 18 months in a prison colony by the Pervomayskyi district court of Rostov-on-Don. He was supposed to be released in May 2015 but was sentenced to an additional three years in a penal colony on January 22, 2015, on new charges of insult and misleading authorities that were initiated on July 24, 2014. His most recent trial was heard in the Leninsky Court of Rostov-on-Don, where the court also banned Reznik from practicing journalism for at least one year. He is reportedly in solitary confinement.
Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director, was sentenced to 20 years in a Russian prison on charges of terrorism on August 25, 2015. Critics in Ukraine and the West consider the charges as “trumped-up” based on Sentsov’s outspokenness against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Sentsov was forcibly abducted from his home in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, by Russian security forces on May 11, 2014. He resurfaced days later in Moscow. Sentsov, after having the status of Russian citizenship forced upon him, stood trial in August 2015 with visible bruises from torture. Sentsov was found guilty of creating a terrorist group, carrying out two terrorist acts, and plotting the explosion of a statue of Lenin in Simferopol. He was also accused of founding a branch of a banned Ukrainian nationalist group called Right Sector, an accusation that the group, as well as Sentsov, refute. The key eyewitness against him, Gena Afanasev, retracted his original testimony, saying it was obtained through torture.
Tolmachev, editor of the magazine Upolnomochen Zayavit and the newspaper Pro Rostov, is serving a sentence of nine years of hard labor. Tolmachev had just been acquitted in a libel case when he was arrested in Rostov-on-Don on December 20, 2011, under articles 91 and 159 of the federal penal code for allegedly extorting 1 million rubles from a businessman in nearby Novocherkassk by threatening to publish compromising information about him. Tolmachev was placed not only in pre-trial detention but also in solitary confinement because the judge argued that Tolmachev’s journalist activities could influence the case. Tolmachev spent almost three years in detention until his conviction on October 29, 2014, after a trial in which only seven of the 50 witnesses listed in the indictment testified in court and at least two young women alleged they had been forced to sign pre-written affidavits against him. Supporters have voiced concern for his health as he suffers from high blood pressure and was reportedly beaten, handcuffed, kicked and denied medical attention by prison staff in December 2014.
In May 2012, Alexeyev, a journalist, lawyer, and LGBTQI rights activist, became the first person charged and fined in Russia under the local municipal law that would eventually become Russia’s infamous “anti-gay law.” First introduced in St. Petersburg, the law became a Russian federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values.” It was unanimously passed by the State Duma on June 11, 2014. Russia’s anti-gay law aims to prevent discussion around LGBTQI issues and stymie expression by LGBTQI individuals. In 2013, two Russian Duma officials called for criminal libel proceedings to be brought against Alexeyev for his criticism of their support of a ban on disseminating “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. On May 29, 2015, Alexeyev confirmed that he was officially charged with insulting a representative of authority. Alexeyev has reported continual harassment and violent attacks against him since 2013. In May 2015, Alexeyev was handed a 10-day prison sentence for “disobeying police orders” for organizing and participating in a Pride demonstration in Moscow.
Andriyevskaya is a journalist affiliated with the Center for Investigative Reporting who lives in Kiev, Ukraine. She reported that Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents went to her parents’ house in Crimea and showed them documents that said she faced anti-state charges in connection with an October 2014 article she wrote in which authorities said she called for the pro-Russian regime to be overthrown in Crimea. The Center for Investigative Reporting, initially based in Simferopol, was forced to relocate to Kiev after its staff reported attacks, harassment, and legal restrictions by the authorities.
Dojčinović is a Serbian investigative journalist working for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) who specializes in revealing links between organized crime and businessmen, as well as money laundering and the gambling industry. He was reportedly detained on May 13, 2015, for 20 hours at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport without explanation and later deported. After he was deported, Dojčinović said that officials made him sign a document stating: “I, Stevan Dojčinović, am aware that according to Russian Federal law №114 issued on 15 August 1996 I am not allowed to come to Russia until 13 May 2020.” Dojčinović said he signed the document seeking to avoid harassment, but there is no official ban in his passport.
Kokorina, a journalist affiliated with the Center for Investigative Reporting, was detained on March 23, 2015, and initially refused access to her lawyer in Crimea. She was detained in Simferopol and interrogated for six hours and then released. The Russian FSB also searched her house and called from her parents’ house asking her to come there immediately.
Milashina is an investigative journalist for Novaya Gazeta who reported a veiled death threat in an editorial on May 19, 2015, by Grozny Inform, the Chechen Republic’s most widely read media outlet that is closely linked to the republic’s leadership. The editorial drew comparisons between her and Anna Politkovskaya saying that she, too, could be killed for “vilifying her country.” She has received death threats before because of her accounts of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture. In 2012, Milashina and a friend were assaulted in what appeared to be a targeted attack in Moscow, leaving her with over a dozen bruises on her head and a missing tooth.
Starodubets, a blogger who reported on the social and economic problems in Derbent, Dagestan, and criticized municipal authorities for their apparent inability to address them, was attacked by masked men on April 5, 2015. According to his account, Starodubets was grabbed outside his hotel by three men and dragged into a waiting car where the attackers taped his eyes and hands, put a bag over his head, and drove him to the mountainside. There, they questioned him about his personal information, his parents’ address, and his connection to regional parliament members. He said the men beat him, broke his nose, and told him to leave the region within three days and not write anything about municipal officials. He believes the attack was related to his writing, and the Dagestan branch of Russia’s Investigative Committee, a federal agency tasked with investigating grave crimes, said in a statement on its website that it had started a preliminary investigation.
Navalny is a lawyer, political activist, blogger, and runner-up in the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections. A long-time critic of Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia Party, Navalny often used his popular blog to organize large-scale demonstrations against corruption in Russia. His financial affairs have been subject to repeated investigations, which Article 19 and Amnesty International have said were politically motivated. On December 30, 2014, he was convicted and given a three-and-one-half-year suspended prison sentence on charges of fraud and money laundering. On February 28, 2014, Navalny was placed under house arrest following a request by investigators. The terms of his house arrest were extended by six months on April 24, 2014. Navalny was briefly detained in January 2015 after breaking the terms of his house arrest by trying to attend an anti-Putin demonstration in Moscow. His suspended sentence was upheld by an appeals court in February 2015, and the court also lifted his house arrest order.