Home Page > News Item > RUSSIA: Russian top official threatens Novaya Gazeta journalist

RAN 29/12 15 June 2012

News of the threats made by the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee against the editor of the independent weekly newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, is cause for deep alarm. PEN fears that there is a growing antagonism against investigative journalism, and that even leading figures believe that they can threaten journalists with impunity.

Novaya Gazeta’s editor, Dmitry Muratov, published an open letter on 13 June 2012 in which he describes how, on 4 June 2012, Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of the independent Novaya Gazeta was invited to join Alexander Bastyrkin, head of the Investigative Committee on a flight to Nalchik in the North Caucasus Republic of Kabardina-Balkaria. (The Investigative Committee was created in 2007 with the aim of reforming federal law-enforcement, leading it to be described as a Russian FBI. Bastrykin, a former law-school classmate of President Vladimir Putin’s formerly served as deputy prosecutor-general.)

Bastyrkin told the journalist that he wanted to talk with him about an article he had written entitled “A Little More Than 10, 000 Rubles per Life: That’s the State’s Price List ‘ published in Novaya Gazeta, Muratov writes that Bastrykin was angered that the article had accused him of failing to punish the perpetrators of a 2010 mass killing of 12 people, including four children, by a gang in southern Russia. One member of the gang, a former municipal deputy from the ruling United Russia party, received of 150,000 rubles (approx. £3,000) last month after being found guilty of covering up the murders. The article had dubbed the Investigative Committee and other state officials “the foundation of power” of such gangs.

Once in Nalchik, Bastyrkin demanded a public apology from Sokolov, who responded that while he would apologise for the “emotional heat” of his article, he would not retract the questions that he had raised in his article about the investigation into the murder. Angered by Solokov’s response, Bastyrkin demanded that he leave the room. Muratov writes that Bastyrkin and Solokov returned to Moscow and on arrival at the airport, Bastrykin’s guards drove them into a forest outside the city, where Bastrykin asked his guards to leave him and Sokolov alone. It was here that Bastrykin allegedly told the journalist that if anything happened to Solokov, he would be in charge of the investigation. Five of Novaya Gazeta’s staff have been killed in recent years, among them Anna Politkovskaya making this threat particularly pertinent. Journalists have staged protests outside the Investigative Committee’s offices in protest at Solokov’s treatment.

These recent events are cause for acute concern not only for the safety of journalists who tackle corruption and human rights issues, but also for the progress of the investigation of the 20 journalists who have been murdered in retaliation for their work in Russia since 2000. 18 of these murders remain unsolved. The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) met with Bastrykin in 2010 to discuss Russia’s record of killed journalists, which has earned Russia ninth place on CPJ’s 2012 Impunity Index. “It’s a matter of honour for us to solve these murders,” Bastrykin told the CPJ delegation back in 2010. “It’s a matter of proving our professionalism.”

Read:

Sokolov’s June 4 Novaya Gazeta article “A Little More Than 10, 000 Rubles Per Life: That’s the State’s Price List” (in Russian)

Dmitry Muratov’s open letter in Novaya Gazeta published on 13 June (in Russian)

Please send appeals:

Calling for an investigation into the threats made against 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 that Russia has signed and ratified

Please send appeals to:

Alexander Bastrykin
Chairman of the Investigative Committee of Russian Federation
Moscow
Russia

Appeals can be submitted via the Investigative Committee website:
http://en.sledcom.ru/rukovodstvo/

**Please check with PEN Writers in Prison Committee if sending appeals after 15 July 2012**

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

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