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El País: Russia’s Growing Impunity to Kill and Intimidate Journalists

The following is a translation of an article which appeared last week in Spain’s leading newspaper, El País, coinciding with the anniversary of the death of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The original article can be read here. Anna_Politkovskaya101508.jpgRussia’s Growing Impunity to Kill and Intimidate Journalists Pressures, boycotts, threats, torture and including death: this is what critical journalists in Russia expect. NGOs and experts criticize the silence of the West before this violation of human rights Juan Carlos Galindo, Madrid, Oct. 4, 2008 Magomed Yevloyev died in Ingushetia on August 31st after receiving a shot to the head while he was in police custody. Telman Alishayev, a broadcast reporter for Islamic TV in Dagestan, died one day later not very far from there, after being shot while in his car. On this same day, MIlosav Bitokov, editor of a weekly in the south of Russia, was beaten close to his home and checked into a hospital with various broken bones and grave wounds. Also at the end of August, Zurab Tsechoyev, editor of the human rights web site Mashr, was kidnapped and tortured for hours by the Russian security forces. A few weeks before, Roza Malsagova flew all the way to Paris with her three children to seek asylum after she suffered harassment and threats. The list could go on for many more paragraphs. All of them were journalists and all have suffered this violence before the indifference of silence of the European Union and Western governments. They have all paid, some with their lives, for their criticism of the Russian government and the zero respect for liberties and human rights shown by Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev.

Repressive StrategyUnder the pressure more or less directly exercised by the system created by Putin, there are two options: silence, accompanied or not by exile, or threats, torture, persecution, boycotts, and, if the journalist works to continue being an annoyance, death.The case of Yevloyev is illustrative. In 2001, he created the website Ingushetia.ru, which was very critical of Russia’s policy in the Caucasus and especially critical of Putin’s ally in the region, the president of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov. Beyond being the owner of this website, Yevloyev also had ideas as “inappropriate” as organizing the I didn’t vote campaign, which denounced the massive fraud which supported Medvedev in the region. Moscow says that 98% of Ingushetians voted, but yevloyev obtained signatures of more than 2% of the population assuring that they did not participate in the elections.Since July of 2007 he found himself under a strong campaign of pressure which included attacks at his father’s house, accusations of being a terrorism apologist, and attempts to shut down his website, although they were unsuccessful as the domain is hosted in the United States – so instead a fake page was created with a similar address with false news to discredit him. As Yevloyev did not give in, he was arrested as he got off an airplane in Magas, the new capital of Ingushetia. He called the website editor, Roza Malsagova, now in exile, and said “Roza, they are arresting me.” Four hours later he died in what the Russian authorities didn’t hesitate to qualify as an “accident.” They even blamed Yevloyev himself, claiming that he attempted to escape and steal a pistol from one of the policemen, according to the version from the prosecutor, who announced an investigation.The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has directly characterized it as a “murder” and did not trust the claims made by the procuracy. “The investigation is just a formality. It would be a very pleasant surprise if it would arrive to the truth, find those responsible and make them pay their price, but the options are minimal,” said Elsa Vidal to ELPAIS.com, the French expert from Reporters without Borders for the former USSR. “Russia leaves little space to investigate, it is hard to believe that Russian justice will get to the truth,” she concludes.Indifference and silence in the West“The Russian government has realized that this poses no greater cost. If they put up with what happened to Anna Politkovskaya, why wouldn’t they also put up with this,” responds Carlos Taibo, a professor of international relations at the Universidad Autonoma, to the question of what the causes are of Russia’s growing impunity in the suppression of fundamental rights. “Politkovskaya was different because she worked in the Western media and was more well known abroad and within Russia,” continued Taibo about the murder of the journalist in October 2006.It is true that it would be “hasty” to directly blame Putin, the UAM professor clarifies, because it bears the mark of some of the security service and army sectors, with or without the direct blessing from the Kremlin.Nina Ognianova, Coordinator of the Europe and Central Asia program for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) agrees with the professor when talking about the indifference of governments and the media, and reminds us that “not only is it the death of Yevloyev hasn’t been featured in international headlines. Furthermore, since the year 2000, sixteen journalists have been murdered in Russia in direct retaliation for their work. Out of all of them, only two or three have been covered in the international media.”Taibo doesn’t believe that this silence is “purchased” by business interests or the energy dependence of the European Union with respect to Russia: “it is the general attitude of the EU than in whatever corner of the world, Russia or Morocco (…) Chechnya is not on the agenda.” It wasn’t in 2006 and it isn’t now, as was demonstrated during last Wednesday’s meeting between Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his Russian homologue, Medvedev. A meeting in which they talked about alliances and “common security spaces” but not a word about human rights.Russia ranks at 144 in the freedom of press index by Reporters without Borders, coming in behind countries such as the Sudan and Afghanistan and followed by Tunisia and Egypt. It is, in addition, the ninth country ranked in the impunity index for the murder of journalists elaborated by the CPJ. But all this doesn’t seem sufficient to merit our attention.