Home Page > News Item > RUSSIA: Russian PEN Says that Official’s Apology is Not Enough

18 June 2012 RAN 29/12 Update #1

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

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

On 4 June 2012, Dmitry Bastryrkin drove Sergei Sokolov into a forest in the outskirts of Moscow where he castigated then threatened the journalist for an article that he had written in which he accused the Investigative Committee of failings in its investigations into a mass murder. Sokolov subsequently fled Russia. For details see PEN alert.

On 13 June, Dmitry Muratov, editor of Sokolov’s newspaper 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 guarantees the safety of Sokolov and all journalists. Soon after, Bastrykin took the extraordinary step for such a high ranking official of making a public apology, stating that he had had an “emotional breakdown”. Novaya Gazeta’s chief editor has stated that: “Everything that I demanded in the letter has been satisfied,” The New York Times reports 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 on 15 June issued the following statement addressed to President Putin:

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 Centre Board Members

Andrey Bitov
Alexey Simonov
Igor Irtenyev
Evgeniy Bunimovich
Boris Evseev
Viktor Erofeev
Konstantin Kedrov
Lev Timofeev
Ludmila Ulitskaya

For further information please contact Sara Whyatt at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (02) 20 7405 0338 Fax: +44 (0) 20 74050339 Email: sara.whyatt@pen-international.org