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Investigative journalist assaulted and seriously injured, RSF alarmed over violence against journalists in Penza region

(RSF/IFEX) - On 27 September 2002, RSF expressed alarm over a wave of violence in recent days against journalists and the media in the Penza region, several hundred kilometres southeast of Moscow.

"The situation there is very serious," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said in a letter to Russia's chief prosecutor, Vladimir Ustinov. "One journalist has disappeared, a media assistant has been murdered and six journalists have been beaten and threatened (…). Regional and federal authorities must not ignore these crimes, which constitute an unprecedented wave of violence against independent journalists in Russia. We ask you to do all you can to see to it that those responsible are found and tried. We also ask you to search for missing journalist Yuri Frolov and confirm that his disappearance is connected to his work," Ménard said.

Investigative journalist Alexander Kizlov, of the daily "Penzenskaya Pravda", was beaten and seriously injured by two youths with iron bars in the city of Penza on 25 September. He had recently published articles in several newspapers (including the Moscow daily "Izvestia") criticising Penza's mayor, Alexander Kalashnikov.

Igor Salikov, head of security at the Propaganda publishing firm and the newspaper "Moskovsky Komsomolets v Penze" in the town of Arbekov, was shot dead on 20 September. Over the previous two weeks, the newspaper had also run articles criticising Kalashnikov. However, local journalists Mikhail Yeliseyev and Vladimir Petrin have stated that Salikov may have been the victim of a settling of scores among criminal gangs.

Thugs in Penza burst into the offices of the Communist opposition newspaper "Lyubimyi Gorod" on 11 September and beat up editor-in-chief Anton Sharonov, journalist Denis Abramov and editorial assistants Natalia Sisova and Nadezhda Gorshkova. Sharonov was beaten unconscious. The newspaper is a frequent critic of Penza Governor Grigory Bochkarev and the regional government. The journalists said they had earlier received threats.

Thugs also beat and kidnapped "Pensenskaya Pravda" correspondent and organised crime specialist Victor Shamayev on 14 September. They warned him to stop working as a journalist and leave town. He is currently recovering in hospital.

In the first week of September, strangers uttered death threats against Frolov, deputy head of the Propaganda publishing house, which publishes "Moskovsky Komsomolets v Penze", after the newspaper criticised Kalashnikov. They warned him to stop publishing such articles. Frolov telephoned his colleagues and told them about the death threats. He has not been seen since.

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