RAN 8/11, 2 March 2011
The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International welcomes the pledge by Russia investigators to re-open investigations into the cases of five murdered journalists. Valery Ivanov, Natalia Skryl, Aleksei Sidorov, Yuri Shchekochikhin and Vagif Kochetkov were all killed – or are suspected to have been killed – in connection with their journalistic activities. They are all WiPC cases from the last 9 years. We urge The Federal Investigative Committee to investigate these cases thoroughly, and we call for an end to the climate of impunity that exists in Russia where attacks on journalists frequently go uninvestigated.
Russian journalists work in an increasingly hostile environment and live under constant threat of legal harassment and violence. In 2010 approximately 40 were attacked because of their work. According to human rights groups there have been 19 unsolved murders of journalists since 2000. Investigations are often superficial and frequently stagnate. Progress in high-profile murder cases, such as those of Anna Politkovskaya (murdered in 2006) and Natalia Estemirova (murdered in 2009), has been very slow.
The five murdered journalists whose cases have been re-opened are listed below:
• Valery Ivanov, the 32-year-old editor of the Tolyatinskoye Oibozreniye was shot dead in the southern city of Togliatti on 29 April 2002. His former colleagues believe that the crime is connected to Chechen criminal gangs, about whose activities he had been reporting.
• Natalia Skryl, aged 29, and journalist for Nasha Vremia, was murdered on 8 March 2002 near her home in Taganrog. Skryl was a business journalist who covered corruption, and it is thought that her reporting of a power struggle at a local metallurgy plant might be linked with her death.
• Aleksei Sidorov, editor-in-chief of the Tolyatinskoye Oibozreniye and a successor of Valery Ivanov, died following a knife attack in Togliatti, on 10 October 2003. According to the Public Prosecutor, his murder appeared to be a contract killing. His newspaper was critical of local criminal gangs.
• Yuri Shchekochikhin, journalist, died on 2 July 2003. He had been in a coma for 5 days following what official reports described as an ‘acute allergic reaction.’ However, friends suspect that he was poisoned. Shchekochikhin had received death threats following allegations he made of malpractice within the state judiciary.
• Vagif Kochetkov, a 31-year-old journalist for the Moscow daily Trud and local newspaper Tulskii Molodoi Kommunar, died on 8 January 2006 following injuries he received following an attack on 27 December 2005. Kochetkov’s colleagues said that he had received numerous death threats by telephone for his reporting, specifically relating to his criticism of a pharmaceutical company and organized crime.