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Reporters Without Borders

Russia - 2004 Annual report

The 2003 Global Press Freedom World Tour


Russia saw a further deterioration in press freedom in 2003. The authorities exploited the public media during legislative elections and obstructed free coverage of the campaign to guarantee victory, particularly in some republics in the Caucuses. A journalist was kidnapped in Chechnya and another was sentenced to a prison term for defamation.

Many observers reported a further setback for democracy in the Russian Federation in 2003. The year ended with the election, on 7 December of a federal Duma dominated by the party of Vladimir Putin, Edinaya Rossiya, followed by the communist party and two nationalist parties, the opposition having been totally wiped out. During the election campaign the authorities made wide use of administrative resources to serve their interests. From August onwards, the Kremlin resumed its grip of the polling institute VTsIOM. The state channels RTR and public ORT openly backed the pro-Kremlin party.

In June, the Council of the Federation adopted amendments to electoral law that, due to their failure to provide a precise definition of electoral propaganda, prevented free election coverage by the media. A few days before the start of the official campaign these amendments were ruled anti-constitutional.

In some regions with few democratic credentials, the authorities did not trouble themselves about using legal means to harass the opposition or independent media. In the republic of Bashkiria, the independent press was reduced to virtually nothing by the yearend. At the beginning of autumn and few weeks before the election of the pro-Russian administrator, Akhmat Kadyrov to the presidency in Chechnya, the situation worsened still further in this war-torn Caucasus region, with a forced takeover by interior ministry troops of the Chechen radio/television and the eight newspapers still published in Grozny. On 4 July, Ali Astamirov, correspondent for Agence France-Presse in Ingushetia and Chechyna was kidnapped by armed men in Nazran, capital of Ingushetia. As of 1st January 2004, the identity of his kidnappers was still unknown and nobody knew where the journalist was being held nor his state of health.

In January, the military journalist Grigory Pasko, who was serving a sentence of four years in a penal colony in the Far East, was freed for good conduct having served two-thirds of his sentence. Convicted of high treason, he had for a long time investigated ecological problems caused by the dismantling of the Pacific fleet. As a result of several cases, the authorities continued in 2003, to consider environmental questions as a taboo subject. In August, another journalist, German Galkin, based in Cheliabinsk in the Urals, was sentenced to one year of hard labour for defamation of two deputy governors but released on appeal. Under Article 130 of the criminal code, insult is still punishable by a sentence of up to one year hard labour and libel (Article 129) by a jail term of up to three years.

Five journalists killed

Five journalists were killed in 2003, but as at 1st January 2004, it was not possible to say whether their deaths were linked to their professional work.

On 18 April 2003, Dmitri Shvets, 37, joint owner, deputy managing director and founder of the local television channel TV-21, was gunned down by three shots fired at him as he got out of his car outside his media offices in northeastern Murmansk. His killer managed to escape, dropping his weapon near the body. In founding TV-21 in 1990, Shvets gave birth to the region's first independent television channel. He acquired a major political role in the region, mainly thanks to TV-21. Shortly before he was murdered, it had broadcast several programmes critical of the mayor of Murmansk and candidates to the 2004 municipal elections. Journalists at TV-21 said they have received verbal threats, particularly from one of the candidates for mayor, Andrei Gorchkov. He had warned journalists that he would take legal action against them if they broadcast an interview that he did not like. Following a complaint from the local journalists' union, on 14 March, the prosecutor-general got involved in the case. Shvets was political advisor to regional governor Yuri Evdokimov. A well-known businessman in Murmansk, he also owned several shops and was joint owner of a night-club.

Yuri Shshekochikhin, deputy editor of the independent daily Novaya Gazeta and deputy for the opposition party Yabloko, died in a Moscow hospital on 2 July eight days after being admitted in a coma. The precise cause of his death is unknown. He could have been poisoned. The journalist, who was investigating corruption at the highest level of government and also covered Chechnya had been threatened several times. As of 1st January 2004, there was no evidence to show that he was murdered.

On 18 July, Alikhan Guliev was shot dead by two bullets in the back fired by an unidentified gunmen as he entered his apartment in the north of Moscow. An investigation was launched. Guliev, who worked occasionally for television channel TV Tsenter and the daily Kommersant, had been covering the conflict in Chechnya since his arrival in the capital in 2002. He previously worked in Ingushetia, where he worked for the Ingushetia public GTRK channel and for the weekly Severny Kavkaz. During the 16 April 2002 presidential elections in Ingushetia, the journalist made a complaint as a private citizen for violation of election law against Khamsat Guseriev, the interior minister and candidate supported by the former president, Ruslan Aushev. Shortly afterwards, on 27 March 2002, unidentified gunmen shot at his vehicle. His complaint led to the candidate being ruled as ineligible, the Supreme Court ruling on 5 April that Guseriev should have resigned from his ministerial post if he wanted to campaign for election. The journalist had also accused him in an article published in December 2001 in Severny Kavkaz, of having used public funds for his campaign. To escape threats against him after the elections, won by a Putin protege Murat Ziazikov, the journalist decided to leave to live in Moscow.

Editor of the regional daily Toliattinskoye Obosrenie, Alexei Sidorov, was stabbed in the car park of his apartment building in Togliatti, Samara region on 9 October. The journalist, who was 31, died shortly afterwards in the arms of his wife. The murder weapon was a "zatochka", a home-made knife typically made in prison from a piece of metal. Sidorov had succeeded Valery Ivanov, after his murder in similar circumstances on 29 April 2002. He had set up a partnership with the auto-makers AvtoVaz, economic powerhouse of the region, which backed the newspaper financially. Before becoming editor he was an investigative journalist for Toliattinskoye Obosrenie. Just a few weeks before his death, he had resumed research into the criminal underworld, but neither the newspaper nor his wife knew exactly what he was working on. Between 15 and 17 October, several contradictory official statements were put out about the arrest of one or more suspects. The chief suspect under arrest was named on 18 October. Held since 12 October, Evgeny Mayninguer, a welder from Togliatti, was accused of having killed the journalist after a row. The accused reportedly asked the journalist, whose path he crossed by chance to lend him some money to buy Vodka. A row break out when the journalist refused and the accused man supposedly stabbed him several times before fleeing and throwing away the murder weapon.

Two others suspects were reportedly arrested but their identities were not revealed. Mayninguer, who initially confessed but then retracted at the beginning of November, said that police had put pressure on him to force a confession. The lawyer for the family, Karen Nersisyan, believed that the authorities insisted on Mayninger's guilt to spare themselves the trouble of having to find the real motives for the murder. Nersisyan said he had been prevented by police from questioning two witnesses who confirmed the suspect's alibi.

The editorial team at Toliattinskoye Obosrenie believed the murder was linked to Sidorov's journalistic work and did not accept the version of a random murder. The day after the killing, the newspaper carried an article exploring four hypotheses. The first two related to articles published in June and July 2003 : One related to a conflict between a criminal Igor Fillipov and a Samara businessman, Vladimir Zaharchenko ; the other was linked to a criminal gang controlled by local hoodlum Igor Sirotenko. Fillipov might have wanted revenge because the newspaper reported his attempted attack against his adversary and that some of his property disappeared after police questioned him. As for Sirotenko, he had threatened to lodge a complaint following an article published about him and demanded an apology. The two criminals could also have got together to eliminate the journalist. The third hypothesis was that Sidorov could have had important information, such as the hiding place of wanted criminal, Alexander Belyakin. Finally, Toliattinskoye Obosrenie thought the murder could be linked to the ownership of the newspaper, which had turned down a purchase bid.

During a reconstrution on 17 October, the daily's journalists noted that the accused man made a mistake in identifying the scene of the crime. Moreover his family made several statements to the effect that the accused was not generally aggressive and that he had only left home on that day around 10pm, by which time the murder had already been committed. The journalist's colleagues were convinced that Sidorov was not the kind of man to engage in the kind of quarrel described by the investigators. On 25 December, Petr Babenko, editor of the weekly Liskinskaya Gazeta, was found dead with 15 knife wounds in a forest near the town of Liosk, Voronezh region, close to the Ukrainian border. On the evening of 24 December, the journalist had left work to meet "someone important", his wife said. An investigation was launched.

New information about a journalist killed in 1994

The Supreme Court on 27 May 2003 quashed a 26 June 2002 acquittal of six people previously convicted of murdering Dmitri Kholodov, of the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets. The military collegium of the Supreme court ruled that the lower court had not taken into account all the facts of the prosecution case. The journalist, who had been investigating corruption in the Russian Army, was killed in October 1994 by an exploding briefcase that had been supposed to contain official documents. The newspaper's editor immediately pointed the finger at the defence ministry's counter-espionage services and the defence minister, General Pavel Grachev. But no direct proof was found to implicate the minister directly. The trial opened in November 2000. The six accused were former intelligence chief of airborne troops, Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, parachute unit commander, Vladimir Morosov, two of his deputies, Alexander Soroka et Konstantin Mirzaiants, deputy head of a security agency providing body guards, Alexander Kapuntsov, and a former officer turned businessman, Konstantin Barkovski....


See also:

the original at

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

Reporters Without Borders

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