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Journalists of the World Gather in Russia

This week the International Federation of Journalists is holding its 2007 World Congress in Moscow, an event which is known as the largest global gathering of international journalists. The week-long Congress kicked off with the presentation of a special conference held yesterday titled “Challenging Impunity: the Global Campaign for Justice in Journalism,” which announced the formation of a committee to investigate unsolved murders of journalists in Russia.

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Here is what the conference background paper says with regard to the investigation:

Outside the war zones, the campaign against impunity is being waged on the borders of Europe. On 12 December 2006 the IFJ organised in London a crisis meeting of representatives from all the world’s major press freedom groups and media employers, plus journalists’ unions from Russia, Germany, France, Italy, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Denmark who agreed to launch an International Commission of Inquiry into the killings of journalists in Russia. The action followed the assassination of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on October 7. This inquiry will be professionally driven and will be carried out in Russia by Russian journalists and experts who will report on their findings and recommendations to the International Commission. The investigation will carry out a review of the killings of more than 200 journalists in Russia since 1993, including unexplained disappearances, which have caused concern to the international community of press freedom defenders, journalists and media organisations. There will be a specific and detailed examination of four sample cases during this period which expose failures, whether related to incompetence or negligence on the part of investigators and judicial authorities or caused by external interference, which have contributed to the failure to find and successfully prosecute those responsible for the killings of journalists or those who authorized such killings. The members of the International Commission believe that the death of Politkovskaya has brought to a head growing international concern over the crisis of impunity in Russia that requires co-ordinated international action by media, journalists’ groups and press freedom defenders. There are also plans to publish a tribute book of the work of contemporary Russian journalists reflecting the independent spirit of Anna Politkovskaya which will be launched at the time of the conference in Moscow in May 2007.

There was also coverage from RFE/RL, which emphasized the dire lack of government attendance of the conference – including a last-minute cancellation by Mikhail Gorbachev:

According to the IFJ, Russia is now the most dangerous place to be a journalist, after Iraq. John Crowfoot, an analyst with the IFJ, has produced a database that outlines the deaths and disappearances of 289 journalists in Russia since 1993. The youngest to have died is a 19-year-old reporter killed last September; the oldest, a retired journalist of 80, was stabbed to death in his home a few years ago. Forty-seven of those killed were women. The figures are staggering. But Crowfoot says the deaths are one of just numerous indicators of how dangerous it is to be a journalist in Russia. “There are attacks on journalists, there are attacks on editorial offices, there is cyber-warfare against websites, there are all kinds of different means of pressure,” he said. “In some parts of the country, it’s said that you don’t need to actually commit much violence because there are already so many levers — control over printing presses and so on, which remain in the hands of the local authorities.” Unsolved Cases The IFJ used the May 28 forum to launching a commission to investigate impunity in the killings of five journalists in Russia whose cases remain unresolved. (The journalists are Valery Ivanov, Aleksei Sidorov, Eduard Markevich, Dmitry Kholodov, and Vladimir Kirsanov.) Miklos Haraszti, a representative for media freedom at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the lack of government action in defending journalists has created an atmosphere in which violence can flourish. “There is only one thing more intimidating for free speech than harassment, physical attacks and murder of media workers — and that is when governments tolerate harassment, attacks and murders,” Haraszti said. The guest of honor at the preliminary session — and one with at least a tentative link to the current government — was to have been former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. But minutes before the opening, he telephoned to say he would not be attending.