Russia: Journalists face violence, harassment for coverage of corruption and Chechnya

May 22, 2000

His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 011-7-095-206-5173/206-6277

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by the recent violent attack on Igor Domnikov, a reporter for the twice-weekly paper Novaya Gazeta in Moscow, and by your government’s recent announcement that it plans to interrogate reporters from both Novaya Gazeta and the Moscow daily Kommersant for publishing interviews with Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov.

Late in the evening of May 12, Domnikov was attacked in the entryway of his apartment building in southeastern Moscow, according to numerous sources. The unidentified assailant hit the reporter repeatedly on the head with a heavy object, presumably a hammer, and left him lying unconscious in a pool of blood, where he was found by a neighbor. Domnikov was taken to a hospital with injuries to the skull and brain. Domnikov underwent surgery before being transferred Saturday to the Burdenko Neurosurgery Institute in central Moscow. After a second operation there, he remains in grave condition and has not yet regained consciousness.

While the motive for the attack remains unknown, Dmitry Muradov, Novaya Gazeta‘s editor, theorizes that the assailant mistook Domnikov, who covers social and cultural issues, for an investigative reporter named Oleg Sultanov, who lives in the same building. Sultanov claims to have received threats from the Federal Security Service in January for his reporting on corruption in the Russian oil industry.

The Interior Ministry has been actively investigating this brutal attack, according to Novaya Gazeta staffers. While this is encouraging news, CPJ remains deeply concerned that both Novaya Gazeta and the leading business daily Kommersant are under investigation for their coverage of the conflict in Chechnya. On May 4, state prosecutors announced that they would question journalists at both papers for publishing interviews with Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov.

On April 26 and 27, respectively, both papers were warned that that publishing interviews with the Chechen leader was a violation of anti-terrorism statutes. Under Russian law, two additional warnings are grounds for closure.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending press freedom around the world, CPJ calls on you to continue to investigate the attack on Domnikov and to ensure that those responsible are punished to the full extent of the law. We also urge you to ensure that Russian government officials cease intimidating journalists, particularly those reporting on the Chechen conflict.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director