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Series of debacles continues for journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Minister of Justice Yuri Chaika, RSF expressed its concern following the repeated attacks against press freedom in Russia. "Since the ascension to power of Mr. Vladimir Putin, two journalists have been assassinated, two others have been arrested, and one is under house arrest. Though the president cannot be held accountable for all these actions, one can legitimately be concerned about the deteriorating press freedom situation," said Robert Ménard, the organisation's secretary-general. RSF notably asked for an explanation concerning the assassination of Sergei Novikov, the director of an independent radio station in Smolensk (east of Moscow). The organisation also requested the release of Irina Grebneva, of the opposition newspaper "Arsenievskié Vesti", in the Primorsk region (in the country's east).

According to information collected by RSF, Novikov, the director of a Smolensk radio station, was killed by unidentified individuals while returning to his home on the evening of 26 July 2000. According to police, the killing could be linked to Novikov's activities as a member of a glass factory's managing committee. The Ministry of the Interior has speculated that this was a contract killing, "very common in Russian business circles." In June, Novikov wrote an open letter to the governor of Smolensk, naming individuals implicated in criminal activities, and warned him that if the situation did not improve, he would stand against him in the next elections. The radio station's personnel believes that this letter could explain this "political crime." According to a report broadcast by the private television station NTV, the radio station started getting into trouble with the authorities in 1999. The station was forced to cancel a planned television programme, titled "From the Other Side of the Mirror", which was to deal with corruption within the regional administration. However, the station did deal with the issue in its radio programmes.

Grebneva was arrested on 27 July in Vladivostok, for publishing excerpts of local administrative leaders' telephone conversations. She is accused of "delinquency" and of "use of foul language in public places". The journalist was incarcerated in a Vladivostok prison known for its harsh conditions. According to her colleagues, her arrest is an "act of revenge by the local authorities in light of the newspaper's editorial stance."

RSF also recalled that Igor Domnikov, a journalist with the twice-weekly independent newspaper "Novaya Gazeta", died on 16 July, as a result of injuries sustained in an assault with a hammer on 12 May. his attackers allegedly mistook him for his colleague and neighbour Oleg Sultanov, who was investigating corruption cases within mineral companies (see IFEX alerts of 24 and 17 July and 16 May 2000).

In addition, Vladimir Gusinsky, owner of the opposition Media-Most press group, whose offices were searched on 11 May and 11 July, was jailed from 13 to 16 June and accused of "fraud" (see IFEX alerts of 15 June 2000). His belongings were sequestered. The charges against him were finally dropped on 26 July.

Finally, Andrei Babitsky, a correspondent with the international radio station Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is currently under house arrest in Moscow. He was arrested on 16 January by federal forces outside Grozny, "exchanged" for several Russian soldiers, and handed over to seemingly pro-Russian Chechen fighters. The journalist was accused of "using false documentation" (see IFEX alerts of 19, 14 and 7 July, among others).

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