Russia/Chechnya: Two journalists killed, two others missing

December 1, 1999

His Excellency Boris Yeltsin
President of the Russian Federation
VIA FAX: 011 7 095 206 5173 / 206 6277

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about a series of recent attacks on journalists covering the conflict in Chechnya. Two Chechen cameramen have been killed in recent weeks, while a Russian reporter and a French photojournalist have disappeared.

Ramzan Mezhidov, a freelance cameraman working for the Moscow-based TV Tsentr, and Shamil Gigayev, a cameraman for the independent Nokh Cho television station in Grozny, were killed during a Russian air attack on a convoy of refugees fleeing Chechnya on October 29. The journalists were covering the convoy on route from Grozny to Nazran, in neighboring Ingushetia.

As the convoy approached the Chechen town of Shaami Yurt, a Russian bomber fired several rockets from the air, hitting a busload of refugees. Despite warnings from colleagues traveling with them, Mezhidov and Gigayev left their vehicle with their video cameras to film the carnage. As they approached the bus, another Russian rocket hit a nearby truck, fatally wounding both journalists.

Meanwhile, two other journalists have gone missing in the northern Caucasus. Dmitry Balburov, a correspondent for the Moscow-based weekly Moskovskiye Novosti, was reported missing by his employers in mid-October. Balburov was on a 10-day-long trip to cover the Chechnya conflict. Balburov’s editors last heard from him on October 4, when he called them from Nazran before leaving for the Chechen border. The paper has not heard from Balburov since. Nor has it received any ransom demands or news about him.

French freelance photographer Brice Fleutiaux has been missing in the region since October 1. The Russian FSB security service subsequently released footage of an unshaven man standing in a dark room complaining in French about poor treatment by his captors. An FSB spokesman claimed that Chechen kidnappers had made the tape and turned it over to them in order to collect ransom for Fleutiaux’s release. The tape was broadcast on the Russian NTV channel on October 31. However, CPJ has been unable to confirm that Fleutiaux was in fact kidnapped..

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is greatly troubled by the apparent Russian military disregard for the security of journalists attempting to cover all sides of the conflict in Chechnya. In particular, we are alarmed by what appears to be a deliberate strategy of targeting civilians. This strategy places journalists, who are duty-bound to cover war casualties, at even greater risk in conflict zones.

We urge you to uphold your international obligation to ensure that all journalists in the northern Caucasus may practice their profession freely and safely.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your comments.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

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His Excellency Boris Yeltsin
President of the Russian Federation
VIA FAX: 011 7 095 206 5173 / 206 6277