Attacks on the Press 2000: Russia

THE ASCENDANCY OF PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN brought an alarming assault on press freedom in Russia last year. Under the new president, the Kremlin imposed censorship in Chechnya, orchestrated legal cases against powerful media barons, and granted sweeping powers of surveillance to the security services (see special report).

Seven journalists were killed in Russia in the course of the year. CPJ confirmed that three died in connection with their profession-two while covering the Chechen conflict, and one from injuries sustained in a brutal assault. In four other killings, CPJ was unable to confirm that the motive was related to the journalist’s work. Of those, one killing took place in the capital, one in Chechnya, and two in the provinces.

Appointed acting president by the ailing Boris Yeltsin on December 31, 1999, Putin was elected to office on March 26 by an overwhelming popular vote. Putin’s political launching pad was Russia’s war against secessionist rebels in Chechnya, sparked by Russian outrage over a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and elsewhere in the fall of 1999 that the Kremlin blamed on Chechen terrorists.

Government restrictions on war correspondents have been far more severe than during the 1994-96 Chechnya campaign. Accreditation rules were strict last year, and no journalists were permitted in the battle zone without military escort. The Kremlin’s briefing center, meanwhile, pumped out relentless propaganda about Russian military successes and Chechen terrorist atrocities.

In the war zone itself, both Russian and international journalists faced constant harassment. Ruslan Musayev, a local reporter for The Associated Press, was captured by Russian military forces in Chechnya in September. He claimed he was beaten and robbed and held in detention overnight before being released. Western reporters, meanwhile, suffered at the hands of officers of the Russian federal security service (the FSB, successor to the KGB). French journalist Anne Nivat of Ouest-France and Liberation was one of about a dozen foreign correspondents who were arrested, questioned, and deported from Chechnya by the FSB.

Aleksandr Yefremov, a photographer with the western Siberian newspaper Nashe Vremya, was killed in May when the military jeep in which he was riding drove over a remote-controlled mine. In November, unknown assailants shot and killed Adam Tepsurgayev, a free-lance Chechen cameraman who worked for the Reuters news agency. It remained unclear whether Tepsurgayev’s murder was connected with his work.

Fear of kidnapping by Chechen militants restricted eyewitness coverage of the conflict. Vladimir Yatsina, a photographer with the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, was reportedly killed by his Chechen captors when he fell behind on a forced march. He had been held since July 1999, apparently by one of several groups of Chechen militants that took hostages for economic gain. Dmitry Balburov, a correspondent for the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti, was held captive by Chechens for three months. It was not clear whether his January release was the result of a hostage exchange or a ransom arrangement. Russian military Special Forces secured the release of French free-lance photographer Brice Fleutiaux on June 12, after eight months in captivity.

In stark contrast to coverage of the first Chechen war, most Russian media outlets overwhelmingly supported the government and projected Kremlin-orchestrated stereotypes. There were exceptions, however, notably the twice-weekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which was consistently critical of the Russian military. The independent NTV network, controlled by embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, also focused on negative aspects of the conflict, correcting low official casualty figures and spotlighting the suffering of Chechen civilians.

In April, state prosecutors announced that they would question journalists at two Moscow newspapers, Novaya Gazeta and Kommersant, for publishing an interview with Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov. Prosecutors claimed that publishing such material was a violation of antiterrorism laws. In July, Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov demanded that authorities in Azerbaijan investigate the broadcasting of an interview with Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev on an independent Baku TV channel. On July 18, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the Ukrainian newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli for publishing an interview with a Chechen official.

Very few Russian journalists disobeyed the government’s rules, but one who dared to do so was Andrei Babitsky, a Russian national who covered Chechnya for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Babitsky disappeared on January 16 while on assignment in the Chechen capital, Grozny. After two weeks of denial and silence, officials in Moscow admitted that the reporter was being held by the Russian military. And after several more weeks of confusion and contradictory official reports, Babitsky was finally released in Dagestan on February 25.

Babitsky’s reappearance followed weeks of pressure from Western governments and international press freedom groups, including CPJ.

On a visit to Moscow in July, CPJ vice chairman Terry Anderson, who was a hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years, met and interviewed Babitsky. The two men met again at CPJ’s annual benefit in New York in November, where Babitsky’s courage was saluted.

Outside Chechnya, physical attacks on journalists, which had slowed in recent years, were renewed with a vengeance. Igor Domnikov, a reporter with Novaya Gazeta, was bludgeoned in the entryway to his apartment in Moscow and died on July 16 after two months in a coma. Domnikov’s colleagues were convinced that the attack was related to his professional activity or that of his newspaper. CPJ wrote to President Putin on three separate occasions (May 22, soon after the attack, July 24, 2000, and January 8, 2001), to urge that a thorough investigation be carried out and the killers brought to justice. Moscow police had made little progress in the case by year’s end, however.

In three other murder cases, CPJ was unable to confirm that the motive for the killing was related to the journalist’s work. Sergei Novikov, owner of the independent radio station Vesna in the city of Smolensk, was shot and killed on July 26. RFE/RL Tajik-language service correspondent Iskandar Khatloni was attacked in his Moscow apartment-he died in hospital on the night of September 21. Finally, Sergei Ivanov, director of Lada-TV, the largest independent television company in Togliatti, Samara Province, was shot and killed in front of his apartment building in early October.

Journalists were targeted in other ways, too. A particularly vicious assault took place on December 17, when four men attacked Oleg Lurye of Novaya Gazeta outside his Moscow home, leaving him with severe skull and body injuries and deep cut wounds to his face. Lurye and his colleagues believed he was attacked for his reports on various high-level corruption scandals.

In August, Novaya Gazeta reporter Oleg Sultanov met in Moscow with CPJ’s executive director, Ann Cooper, and told her that he had received numerous verbal and written death threats over the past several months. Sultanov believed the threats came from the security service of a powerful oil company whose business dealings he was investigating.

Outside Moscow, journalists in many of Russia’s 89 regions suffered physical attacks, and harassment from local authorities. Newspapers and broadcast stations in the hinterland are heavily dependent on local administrators for essential services such as access to printing presses and leasing of premises. Regional officials across the federation use this leverage to retaliate against media outlets that cover them in an unflattering way. In the Primorye territory, for example, authoritarian governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko jailed the editor of an opposition weekly for five days for publishing telephone transcripts that appeared to implicate the governor himself and other officials.

On May 11, as the state’s campaign intensified against so-called oligarchs who gained enormous wealth and influence during the Yeltsin administration, armed police and tax authorities raided the Moscow headquarters of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most company. The company controls NTV Television, Ekho Moskvy radio, the daily newspaper Segodnya, and the weekly news magazine Itogi, all media outlets that had been openly critical of the government.

Kremlin officials insisted that the raid and subsequent investigation of Media-Most were motivated solely by the company’s alleged violations of Russian tax law. In a letter to Putin on May 12, CPJ protested the heavy-handedness of the police action, arguing that such intimidation had no place in a democratic country.

Gusinsky himself was arrested on June 13 and charged with embezzlement of state property. He was released after three days. In the course of the next several months, the federal Prosecutor General’s Office dropped charges, then announced a new investigation, and finally issued an order for Gusinsky’s arrest on fraud charges. He was re-arrested in Spain on December 12, although Spanish authorities initially refused Russian prosecutor’s official extradition requests. And although one Moscow court dismissed the charges against Gusinsky on December 26, a higher court reinstated them on January 5, 2001. As this volume went to press, Gusinsky was under house arrest in Spain, pending a final decision on the Russian extradition request.

Another Kremlin target was business tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who has a 49-percent stake in the Russian public television network ORT and owns the publications Kommersant-Daily, Noviye Izvestiya, and Nezavisimaya Gazeta. For much of the year, Berezovksy was under pressure from the General Prosecutor’s Office in relation to his alleged embezzlement of profits from Aeroflot, the country’s largest airline, in which he reportedly had a financial interest.

In an open letter sent to Putin in early September, Berezovsky claimed that an unnamed high-ranking Kremlin official had pressured him to sell his stake in ORT. The company’s Moscow headquarters were raided on December 5. Federal agents confiscated documents, claiming they were searching for contraband foreign videos and evidence of alleged financial irregularities at ORT between 1997 and 1999.

Many observers believed that the government was applying legal pressure on Media-Most and ORT because it wanted to take over all Russian mass media, pointing out that other tycoons and companies were not investigated to anything like the same degree as Gusinsky and Berezovsky.

Press freedom advocates were also alarmed by increased official surveillance of the Internet. The government’s Service for Operative-Investigative Measures (SORM) regulations require Internet Service Providers in Russia to install a monitoring device that routes all their traffic through servers controlled by local law enforcement agencies. Although officials theoretically need a court warrant to inspect private Internet traffic in criminal prosecutions, human rights groups suspect that the authorities may not always stick to the letter of the law. “It is clear that this is by definition a violation of the fundamental and constitutional rights of the citizen,” said Yuri Vdovin, deputy chairman of the St. Petersburg-based group Citizens’ Watch.

In late November, the Supreme Court’s military bench announced its intention to retry naval captain and journalist Grigory Pasko in Vladivostok. In 1997, Pasko was charged with treason for leaking information about the Russian Fleet’s dumping of nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan to the Japanese television station NHK. Pasko spent 20 months in prison awaiting trial. He was eventually acquitted of treason, but found guilty of abusing his authority as an officer, and then released under an amnesty program. Under the Supreme Court’s latest ruling, it could be a year to 18 months before a new verdict is reached.

In July, CPJ joined a group of the world’s leading press freedom organizations, coordinated by the World Press Freedom Committee, on a visit to Moscow. The delegation met many journalists and politicians, including Babitsky, Gusinsky, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, and Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of the presidential administration. In a press release issued after the visit, the delegation concluded that the independent Russian media was under threat, and that Putin had not backed up his words about the importance of press freedom with concrete actions.

Andrei Babitsky, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Babitsky, a Moscow-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter well known for his critical reporting on the war in Chechnya, was last heard from on January 15, when he phoned his wife in Moscow from the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Over the previous month, Babitsky had been the target of severe harassment by Russian authorities, who were apparently incensed by his coverage of the Russian military escalation against the breakaway republic. On December 27, the Russian Information Center accused Babitsky of conspiring with Chechen rebels in producing a December 26 broadcast critical of the Russian government’s Chechnya policy. On January 8, FSB state security officers detained Ludmila Babitsky in Moscow and seized a roll of her husband’s film that contained pictures of Russian military casualties.

On or around January 16, 2000, Russian military authorities secretly detained Babitsky in a Russian-controlled area of Chechnya. Babitsky’s fate remained unknown until late January, as the authorities did not immediately announce that he was in military custody.

The journalist was formally arrested on January 27, on the charge of “participating in an armed formation” (this charge was later dropped). On February 3, Russian military authorities handed Babitsky over to purported Chechen rebels, whom Babitsky later claimed were loyal to Moscow. This bizarre piece of theater was apparently staged to suggest that Babitsky was a Chechen rebel sympathizer.

On February 25, Babitsky resurfaced in Makhachkala, capital of neighboring Dagestan. Russian authorities promptly arrested him on the charge of possessing a false Azeri passport, which Babitsky claimed had been forced on him by his Chechen captors after they took away his own documents. Three days later, he was flown to Moscow, and forbidden to leave the city before his trial.

Babitsky was freed less than a day after acting Russian president Vladimir Putin publicly suggested that there were no grounds for keeping him in detention. Putin also questioned the Interior Ministry’s handling of the case.

On October 2, Babitsky’s trial began in a Dagestani regional court. On October 6, Babitsky was convicted of using false documents and sentenced to pay a fine of 13,200 rubles (US$475). The fine was waived and the charges were immediately dropped under an amnesty program passed earlier this year by the Russian Duma (parliament).

Two weeks later, Babitsky’s lawyers filed an appeal with the Dagestan Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction on December 13. At press time, the defense planned to appeal before the Russian Supreme Court.

Anne Nivat, Ouest-France, Libération

Two Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers arrested Nivat, a special correspondent in Chechnya for the French dailies Ouest-France and Libération, south of Grozny in the Chechen village of Novye Atagi. Nivat was taken to the FSB headquarters in Mozdok. The next day, she was questioned for eight hours by representatives of the FSB and the prosecutor general’s office.

Five days before her arrest, 15 FSB agents searched the house of the Chechen family where Nivat had been staying, confiscating her notebooks, address book, mobile telephone, and original drafts of the articles she had filed in the previous month. All Nivat’s possessions were returned a week later. On February 14, she was put on a plane to Moscow.

Nivat had been officially accredited by the Russian Foreign Ministry to work in the country, but her application for special accreditation from federal military forces in the North Caucasus had been turned down in October 1999.

Vladimir Yatsina, ITAR-TASS

Yatsina, a photographer with the state-run news agency ITAR-TASS, was killed in Chechnya by Chechen militants who had taken him hostage, according to statements that Amnesty International collected from two of his fellow hostages.

Yatsina joined ITAR-TASS in 1979, and was 51 at the time of his death.

The two witnesses, who spoke after their release from captivity at the end of February, were Alisher Orazaliyev, from Kazakhstan, and Kirill Perchenko, from Moscow. They said Yatsina, who had been suffering from food poisoning and had sore feet, was shot when he fell behind during a forced march from the town of Urus-Martan to the mountains of Shatoi. Orazaliyev and Perchenko said they saw his body the next day when they returned along the same road.

Yatsina was kidnapped in the Ingush capital, Nazran, on July 19, 1999. A month later, the kidnappers contacted his family and demanded a ransom of US$2 million. In November, the kidnappers contacted ITAR-TASS and demanded the same amount.

Orazaliyev and Perchenko said the kidnappers were a well-organized group of around 70 Chechens.


Slovo Publishers, a local press that reprints copies of many national newspapers one day after they have been received electronically from Moscow, was found to have altered an April 13 Izvestiya article that criticized Saratov governor Dmitry Ayatskov.

The article alleged that Ayatskov, who was elected to a second term on March 26, had illegally forced his main opponent out of the race and had then falsified the results. In the edition of Izvestiya that appeared in Saratov the next day, however, these charges were toned down. (The differences were discovered by several readers who compared the original article on the Internet with the local printed version.)

Izvestiya alleged that the order to tone down the criticism came from Ayatskov’s press secretary, Igor Nikiforov. At an April 20 press conference, Nikiforov denied any involvement but could not explain how the censorship had occurred. The provincial government ignored Izvestiya‘s call for an official investigation, although Governor Ayatskov suggested that unnamed oil tycoons had arranged on their own initiative for the article to be changed, hoping that he would be pleased enough to grant them business concessions.

Novaya Gazeta

Representatives from the State Prosecutor’s office announced that they would question journalists at the twice-weekly Moscow paper Novaya Gazeta and the leading business daily Kommersant for printing an interview with Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov.

Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta received official warnings on April 26 and 27 that publishing an interview with the Chechen leader was a “violation of the law on terrorism.” Under Russian law, additional warnings to either paper could be grounds for closure.

MAY 11

The Moscow offices of the private media conglomerate Media-Most, whose various outlets have often criticized Kremlin policies, were raided by some 40 tax inspectors and police commandos. The raid began around 9:30 a.m. at the headquarters of Media-Most, which is owned by business tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky and includes NTV Television, Ekho Moskvy radio, the daily newspaper Segodnya, and the weekly newsmagazine Itogi. At least three of the raiders were armed and wore camouflage uniforms and ski masks, while others were in plain clothes, according to eyewitnesses. The men identified themselves as representatives of the tax police, but gave no further details as they searched the offices for documents.

The Interfax news agency later reported that the raid was conducted by the Russian Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Fighting Economic Crime, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the tax police, and that the search was part of a criminal investigation of former Finance Ministry officials.

Media-Most representatives denounced the raid, claiming it was prompted by their coverage of official corruption and of Russia’s military campaign in Chechnya.

On June 13, Gusinsky was arrested on charges of embezzlement, and then released after a few days (see June 13 case). He later claimed that he had been coerced into selling Media-Most shares to the state-owned gas giant, Gazprom, which already owned a stake in the company and had loaned more than US$200 million to Media-Most.

On the morning of July 11, an investigator from the Prosecutor General’s Office, Zigmund Lozhin, and a captain of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Yevgeny Pozharsky, searched the editorial offices of NTV and the central administrative offices of Media-Most and removed financial documents. Two days later, according to The Associated Press, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov announced that Media-Most was under investigation for alleged financial offenses and that evidence of “wrongdoing” had been found.

On November 17, Media-Most and Gazprom-Media (Gazprom’s media division) reached an agreement to settle Media-Most’s US$211 million debt. Under the agreement, Gazprom-Media would receive a 25 percent plus one share of all Media-Most companies, excluding NTV. Gazprom-Media’s NTV stake would rise from 30 to 46 percent, and 25 percent plus one share in NTV would be sold to a foreign investor.

On December 19, Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh told the Russian news agency Interfax that Media-Most had not completed the sale of shares to a Western company by the agreed deadline of December 18.

On December 9, meanwhile, Russian tax authorities filed suit in a Moscow court, requesting the liquidation of several Media-Most companies, including NTV. Rumors swept the capital that NTV would be closed, but at press time the network remained on the air and hearings on the tax case had not taken place.

In early January, Ted Turner’s spokesman announced that the CNN founder and Time Warner vice-chairman was negotiating with Media-Most, in his private capacity, about buying a 25 percent stake in NTV.

MAY 12
Aleksandr Yefremov, Nashe Vremya

Yefremov, a photographer for the western Siberian newspaper Nashe Vremya, was killed in Chechnya when the military jeep he was riding in was blown up by a remote-controlled mine, according to Galina Golovanova, the paper’s editor. Two policemen who accompanied Yefremov from Tyumen were also killed in the explosion.

The jeep was blown up after turning off the main road near the Russian-controlled village of Kirov, just two and a half miles (four kilometers) from the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Yefremov, 41, had arrived in Grozny on May 10; it was his third trip to Chechnya since 1995.

Brice Fleutiaux, free-lancer

Fleutiaux, a French photographer kidnapped by Chechen rebels in October 1999, was freed by Russian special forces, according to international news reports.

Fleutiaux was flown to Moscow, where he met with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The photographer appeared tired and thin, but not in visibly poor health, according to news reports.

Chechen rebels kidnapped Fleutiaux on October 1, 1999, later demanding a US$1.5 million ransom. During his captivity, Fleutiaux’s parents received a videotape of their son and one phone call in which he pleaded for them to secure his release.

Russian news agencies reported that no ransom had been paid, and quoted the Interior Ministry spokesman as saying the photographer had been “irresponsible” in straying into Chechnya from Georgia without a visa.

Until Fleutiaux’s April 23 call to his family, there had been no direct confirmation of Fleutiaux’s whereabouts. He was last seen in Chechnya on October 1, 1999. Later that month, the Russian FSB security service 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 a ransom for Fleutiaux’s release.

Although the Russian government continued to insist that the journalist had been kidnapped by an independent Chechen group, some local news sources alleged that the government was somehow involved in his abduction.

Vladimir Gusinsky, Media-Most

Gusinsky, head of the media holding company Media-Most, was arrested late on the evening of June 13 and taken to a Moscow prison. The Prosecutor General’s Office accused the media magnate of illegally acquiring state property, but did not press charges against him. (Under Russian law, suspects must be released after 10 days in the absence of charges.)

Media-Most properties include NTV television, Ekho Moskvy radio, the daily Segodnya, and the weekly magazine Itogi. Both Gusinsky and his media have repeatedly criticized the Putin government for high-level corruption and for its conduct of the war in Chechnya. Media-Most outlets are also known for their satirical portrayals of senior government officials.

President Vladimir Putin, who was on a state visit to Spain at the time, said he was “surprised” and “sincerely worried” by Gusinsky’s arrest, according to news reports. Putin also claimed that Russian prosecutors had acted independently of the government and promised to look into the case when he returned to Moscow.

On June 16, Gusinsky was officially charged with having embezzled US$10 million during the privatization of the state company Russkoe Video. That same day, he was released from prison and placed under house arrest. On July 19, the investigators seized a house and a plot of land belonging to Gusinsky in the village of Chigasovo, outside Moscow.

On July 27, the Prosecutor General’s Office abruptly dropped its case against Gusinsky, claiming it lacked sufficient evidence to prove criminal behavior. Some press reports suggested that Gusinsky had been freed on condition that he sell Media-Most to the state-controlled natural-gas giant Gazprom (see May 11 case).

Rumors of a deal continued to swirl over the next several weeks. On September 9, the head of Gazprom-Media, Alfred Kokh, announced that Gazprom and Gusinsky had signed a confidential agreement, on July 20, under which the criminal case against Gusinsky would be dropped in exchange for Media-Most shares. The deal was also signed by Media Minister Mikhail Lesin.

On September 18, while in the U.S., Gusinsky claimed that he had been coerced into signing the agreement, of which details were scant and confused. Gazprom reportedly owned a 14-percent stake in Media-Most (and a 30 percent stake in NTV) and had paid out loans to Media-Most, some of which had become due.

On September 19, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced it had launched an investigation into possible breach of contract by Media-Most, and on September 28 Russian news agencies reported that criminal fraud proceedings had been launched against Gusinsky. Deputy Prosecutor General Vasili Kolmogorov claimed that Media-Most stock had been illegally transferred abroad.

On November 13, the Prosecutor General’s Office ordered Gusinsky’s arrest on fraud charges. An international arrest warrant was issued on November 20, and on December 12 Gusinsky was arrested at his home in Spain. He was released on bail and as this volume went to press Spanish authorities had not granted the Prosecutor General’s extradition request. On December 26, a Moscow court dismissed the fraud charges against Gusinsky, but a higher Moscow court reinstated the charges on January 5, 2001.

Igor Domnikov, Novaya Gazeta

Domnikov, 42, a reporter and special-projects editor for the twice-weekly Moscow paper Novaya Gazeta, died two months after being attacked in the entryway of his apartment building in southeastern Moscow.

According to numerous sources, the reporter was attacked on May 12 by an unidentified assailant who hit him repeatedly on the head with a heavy object, presumably a hammer, and left him lying unconscious in a pool of blood in the entryway, where a neighbor found him.

Domnikov was taken to a hospital with injuries to the skull and brain. After surgery and two months in a coma, the journalist died on July 16 in the Burdenko Neurosurgery Institute in central Moscow.

From the very beginning, Domnikov’s colleagues-and the police-were certain the attack was related to his professional activity or that of the newspaper. It was also believed for a while that the assailant mistook Domnikov, who covers social and cultural issues, for a Novaya Gazeta investigative reporter named Oleg Sultanov, who lives in the same building. Sultanov claimed to have received threats from the Federal Security Service in January for his reporting on corruption in the Russian oil industry.

According to the paper’s editorial staff, the Interior Ministry was actively investigating the brutal attack and promised Domnikov’s colleagues to finish the investigation by the end of the summer if the latter agreed not to interfere or disclose any details of the case to the public. However, in early fall the police downgraded the case’s high-priority status and “archived” it, as allowed by law for cases that remain unresolved after three months.

Domnikov’s colleagues were not informed of the downgrade. As they explained to CPJ, “archiving” does not mean outright closure of the investigation: the case may be reopened if new information emerges, but this did not appear likely at year’s end.

Sergey Novikov, Radio Vesna

Novikov, 36, owner of the only independent radio station in Smolensk, was shot and killed at around 9:00 p.m. in the stairwell of his apartment building. The killer shot him four times and then escaped through a back door.

Radio Vesna often criticized the government of Smolensk Province. On July 23, Novikov took part in a television panel that discussed the alleged corruption of the provincial deputy governor. Novikov’s employees believed his murder was politically motivated. He was said to have received death threats earlier in the year after announcing his intent to run for the provincial governorship.

Novikov was also one of the most successful businessmen in the region, serving on the board of directors of a local glassmaking factory.

At year’s end, a Radio Vesna staff member told CPJ that the killer remained at large, that the investigation was continuing, and that police had not yet determined a motive.

Irina Grebneva, Arsenyevskiye Vesti

A court in Vladivostok sentenced Grebneva, editor of the opposition weekly Arsenyevskiye Vesti, to five days in prison for “petty hooliganism.” The journalist was taken into custody straight from the courtroom, and was not permitted to appeal the ruling.

According to CPJ’s sources, the local prosecutor’s office filed hooliganism charges against Grebneva after the July 20 issue of Arsenyevskiye Vesti ran transcripts of telephone conversations attributed to Primorye territory governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko, his deputy Konstantin Tolstoshein, and newly elected Vladivostok mayor Yury Kopylov.

The transcripts suggested that the three officials had conspired in efforts to tamper with the results of the June 18 mayoral elections. They were originally introduced as evidence in a July 10 court hearing at which losing mayoral candidate Viktor Cherepkov argued that the election had been rigged in Kopylov’s favor.

Grebneva, 57, began a hunger strike immediately after her sentence was pronounced. During her five days in prison, the editor was not allowed to see her attorney or any other visitors, except her doctor.

Defense lawyer Yevgeny Korovin appealed the sentence to a higher court, which upheld it on July 31. In an interview that same day with the radio station Ekho Moskvy, Korovin pledged to file an appeal with the European Court for Human Rights. Meanwhile, CPJ protested Grebneva’s conviction in an August 1 letter to President Vladimir Putin.

This was not the first time that Arsenyevskiye Vesti and other independent media in the region had come under attack from local authorities. Over its eight years in print, according to CPJ’s local sources, the paper had been sued at least 30 times, every time by local government officials. The paper had also been denied access to the state printing service on at least 15 occasions, most recently in June.

During the November 1999 gubernatorial elections, Radio Free Europe reported, Governor Nazdratenko shut the offices of the independent Radio Lemma and also forced out the editor of the independent newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets vo Vladivostoke, considered by local officials to be too critical of the regional administration.

Oleg Sultanov, Novaya Gazeta

Sultanov, an investigative reporter with the independent, twice-weekly Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, met with CPJ on August 27, 2000, and described his alleged persecution at the hands of state security services and the giant Russian oil company Lukoil, which Sultanov had been investigating.

In April, Sultanov received an anonymous letter warning that he would soon be killed with a spike through his heart or a hammer to the head (the latter method was later used in a deadly attack on Sultanov’s Novaya Gazeta colleague Igor Domnikov; see July 16 case). The journalist said he gave the letter to the police but did not keep a copy for himself.

On August 19, Sultanov received a second anonymous letter offering him compromising material on Lukoil. The end of the letter offered the “friendly advice” that if the journalist deceived “them” (the anonymous author and his colleagues) he would die. The letter also indicated that the July 16 attack on Domnikov had been intended to intimidate the entire staff of Novaya Gazeta, particularly Sultanov.

In September, meanwhile, Sultanov filed an official complaint with the Prosecutor General’s Office alleging that he was being harassed and threatened by employees of Lukoil. Sultanov had published numerous investigative articles about corruption at the company, which has close links to the Russian government.

Sultanov alleged that his phone was tapped, that he was constantly followed, and that he continued to receive death threats. At year’s end, the Prosecutor General’s Office had not acted on Sultanov’s complaint, despite a legal obligation to respond to such requests within 10 days. Meanwhile, Novaya Gazeta has been forced to provide Sultanov with bodyguards.

Oleg Lurye, another investigative reporter with Novaya Gazeta, was attacked on December 17 by four men. The attack was apparently motivated by Lurye’s reports on high-level state corruption. (See December 17 case.)

CPJ protested this sustained campaign of threats and intimidation against Novaya Gazeta in a January 8, 2001, letter to President Vladimir Putin.

Vadim Chelikov, ORT
Vladimir Agafonov, ORT

General Vadim Timchenko, commander of Russian military forces in Chechnya, announced that reporter Chelikov and cameraman Agafonov of the Moscow-based television network ORT would be deported from Chechnya and stripped of their authorization to work in the area. The deportation order came in response to the ORT crew’s report, aired earlier that day, about a fire at the Russian military base in Khankala. ORT claimed that the fire had been caused inadvertently by Russian forces. While other journalists also covered the fire, General Timchenko claimed that ORT’s video footage revealed the secret location of the Russian military base.

This case seemed to indicate a new trend in the Russian military’s treatment of journalists in Chechnya. In the past, the military had tended to deny foreign correspondents access to Chechnya or detain local Chechen journalists, rather than expelling visiting Russian journalists from the strife-torn region.

Ruslan Musayev, The Associated Press

Musayev, a local reporter, cameraman, and photographer for The Associated Press (AP), was captured by Russian military forces in Chechnya, beaten, and held in detention overnight. He was released the following morning after his guards took US$600 from him, the AP reported.

Musayev had traveled to Grozny from southern Chechnya, where he resides, to cover military operations in the city. That afternoon, Russian troops stopped him in the local marketplace and asked for his identification papers. Musayev did not have his press credentials with him at the time. Since other documents showed that he was not a resident of Grozny, he was arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded, and transported, along with seven other people, to Russian military headquarters in Khankala. (Russian forces in Chechnya often use Russia’s strict residency laws to detain people, usually ethnic Chechen men of fighting age.)

Russian authorities confiscated Musayev’s passport, money, and other valuables. When the prisoners arrived at the Russian military base, Musayev was beaten, suffering multiple bruises and damage to his lower ribs. He was then detained overnight, together with four other Chechen men, in a covered pit near the military airfield in Khankala. The next morning, he was interrogated by a Russian officer, who confiscated his gold watch and US$600 in cash. Russian soldiers then drove Musayev to the Chechen-Ingushetia border, where he was released. Later, Russian officials in both Chechnya and Moscow denied that the arrest ever occurred.

Sergey Dorenko, ORT

Dorenko’s weekly prime-time news show, aired on Saturdays on the partially state-owned ORT network, was suspended on September 9, the same day that President Vladimir Putin announced the government’s new “Information Security Doctrine.”

ORT general director Konstantin Ernst insisted that no one from the government had been involved in the programming change, and that he yanked the show because Dorenko had defied his orders to stop discussing the government’s plan to nationalize media magnate Boris Berezovsky’s 49-percent stake in the network.

A week later, Dorenko’s program was canceled permanently. The journalist said he believed that the order to kill the program came directly from President Putin, who had been helped to the presidency by Berezovsky’s patronage and the highly partisan campaign coverage of ORT, in particular on Dorenko’s show.

At a September 11 press conference in Moscow, Dorenko claimed that in a late August meeting with Putin, the president had asked him to “join his team.” Dorenko said he turned down the offer and continued to air critical coverage of the Kursk submarine disaster and the war in Chechnya.

Vadim Fefilov, NTV
Aleksei Peredelsky, NTV

Russian soldiers intervened to stop an NTV television crew from interviewing Bislan Gantamirov, former deputy head of the regional administration in Chechnya, for “Itogi,” the independent network’s prime-time Sunday news program. As NTV reporter Fefilov and cameraman Peredelsky were awaiting Gantamirov’s arrival on the grounds of the Russian military base in Khankala, Chechnya, three armed soldiers forced them to lie down on the ground.

Gantamirov never made it to the interview. Later, when the crew tried to continue their reporting, an unidentified Russian colonel tried to stop them by blocking their camera lens with his hand. (This action was recorded by a second camera.) The colonel announced that he was on the staff of the base press center and that it was his responsibility to oversee all press activities in Chechnya. Russian media reported that he also threatened to kill Fefilov if the reporter did not comply with his orders.

Deputy Commander in Chief Col.-Gen. Valery Manilov later announced that the NTV reporters had staged the entire incident and had also “broken the rules of conduct for journalists working in a combat area.” However, he also said that military authorities in Chechnya had launched an investigation into the incident.

The next day, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky appeared on NTV news and apologized for the incident. He also assured the Russian press that the government would not censor reporting about combat in Chechnya.

Iskandar Khatloni, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Khatloni, a reporter for the Tajik-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was attacked late at night in his Moscow apartment by an unknown axe-wielding assailant. The door of his apartment was not damaged, indicating there was no forced entry and that the journalist might have known his attacker.

Khatloni, 46, was struck twice in the head, according to RFE/RL’s Moscow bureau. He then stumbled onto the street and collapsed, to be found later by a passerby. The journalist died later that night in Moscow’s Botkin Hospital. Local police opened a murder investigation, but had made little progress at year’s end.

Khatloni had worked since 1996 as a Moscow-based journalist for the Tajik service of the U.S.-funded RFE/RL, which beams daily news programming to Tajikistan.

An RFE/RL spokeswoman said that at the time of his death, Khatloni had been working on stories about the Russian military’s human rights abuses in Chechnya. Earlier in the year, a senior official in Russia’s Media Ministry charged that RFE/RL was “hostile to our state.”

However, Khatloni’s colleagues also speculated that the journalist might have been killed because of unpaid debts, or in a random hate crime.

Aleksei Sharavsky, Radio Ekho Rostova

At 9:35 a.m., two unidentified men attacked Sharavsky, editor of the independent radio station Ekho Rostova in the city of Rostov-on-Don, while the journalist was on his way to work. The two men assaulted Sharavsky from behind, stabbing him twice in the thigh. As he turned around to fight back, they hit him in the face. Sharavsky notified his father of the incident via cellular phone, and then fainted. By the time an ambulance arrived, he had lost considerable blood. He was delivered to a local emergency room unconscious. After surgery, he was kept in the hospital for 10 days.

Sharavsky later speculated that the attack was related to the station’s recent acquisition of new broadcasting frequencies, which left employees of a local transmitting facility unemployed.

Local police, who agreed the attack was instigated by Sharavsky’s work at the radio station, launched an investigation, but no progress had been made at year’s end.

Sergey Ivanov, Lada-TV

At around 10 p.m., unknown gunmen killed independent television executive Ivanov, the director of Lada-TV, in front of his apartment building in the town of Togliatti, Samara Province. Ivanov was shot five times in the head and chest.

Lada-TV, which the 30-year-old Ivanov had headed since 1993, was the largest independent television company in Togliatti and a significant player on the local political scene. At year’s end, investigators had not ruled out a possible commercial or programming dispute as motivation for the murder. Station staffers told CPJ that they had no idea what the motive could have been.

Dmitry Filimonov, Versiya

Filimonov, investigative editor of the Moscow-based independent weekly Versiya, was invited to the local office of the Federal Security Services (FSB) for an interview regarding a September 26 article in which he alleged that the Kursk submarine had sunk after it collided with an American submarine on August 12. The article was accompanied by a satellite photograph of a wrecked submarine docked in a Norwegian naval base. Filimonov claimed that a Russian satellite had taken this picture on August 19. In response to questions from the FSB agents, Filimonov claimed that an anonymous source had sent the image on a floppy disk.

Some Russian journalists speculated that the picture was in fact six years old and had been deliberately leaked to Filimonov by government investigators involved in the Kursk disaster probe, in order to “prove” that the Kursk had collided with a foreign submarine.

After a four-hour interrogation, FSB officers visited Versiya‘s editorial offices and confiscated some of Filimonov’s research materials, along with the hard drive of his computer. The police also charged Versiya with revealing state secrets, a criminal offense, and named Filimonov as a witness.

A week later, FSB agents visited the newspaper offices again to inspect the computers on which the newspaper is laid out, as well as the personal files of all the paper’s employees, according to editor in chief Rustam Arifdzhanov. The investigators confiscated several computers from the paper’s layout center.

On November 22, police raided Versiya again, intending to confiscate the paper’s main editorial server, which would have made it impossible to produce the newspaper’s next issue. At the request of Versiya‘s editorial board, the police instead copied data from the server.

Filimonov was questioned on November 23 and December 7, and Arifdzhanov was questioned on November 24. All the charges were pending at year’s end.

Grigory Pasko, Boyevaya Vakhta

The Russian Supreme Court’s military section annulled a July 1999 ruling in the case of naval captain and journalist Grigory Pasko, a reporter for the military newspaper Boyevaya Vakhta, and announced its intention to send him back before the Vladivostok Military Court to face treason charges.

In 1997, Pasko was accused of high treason and revealing state secrets for providing the Japanese television station NHK with information about the Pacific Fleet’s dumping of nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan. In June 1999, after 20 months in pretrial detention, the journalist was acquitted of espionage but convicted on a lesser charge of abusing his authority as an officer. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and released under an amnesty program.

It could be a year to 18 months before a verdict is reached; Pasko remains free in the meantime.

Adam Tepsurgayev, Reuters

Tepsurgayev, a 24-year-old Chechen cameraman, was shot dead at a neighbor’s house in the village of Alkhan-Kala. His brother Ali was wounded in the leg during the attack. A Russian government spokesman blamed Chechen guerrillas for the murder. The gunmen reportedly spoke Chechen, but local residents said the militants had no reason to kill the cameraman.

During the first Chechen war (1994-1996), Tepsurgayev worked as a driver and fixer for foreign journalists. Later, he started shooting footage of combat between Russian troops and separatist guerillas. Reuters’ Moscow bureau chief, Martin Nesirky, described him as an “irregular contributor.”

While most of Reuters’ footage from Chechnya in 2000 was credited to Tepsurgayev, including video showing Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev’s foot being amputated, he had not worked for Reuters in the six months before his death.


At midnight, the Sochi-based independent station Maks-TV was suspended on verbal orders from Press Minister Mikhail Lesin. The station received the written order from the ministry the next day, at around 11 a.m.

In a press release, the ministry claimed that Maks-TV had violated Russian advertising laws by airing commercials for alcoholic beverages, and had violated electoral law in its hostile depiction of pro-Kremlin mayoral candidate Vadim Boiko. The ministry asked Maks-TV to provide an explanation of its alleged legal violations by December 31.

Maks-TV director Mikhail Mikishis later admitted that the station had depicted Boiko in an unfavorable manner. Mikishis claimed, however, that Boiko had refused an invitation from the station to appear on the air and refute allegations of dishonest business dealings. Mikishis also admitted to airing a brandy advertisement during the summer, but added that he had pulled the ad after a warning from the Ministry for Antitrust Policies.

The suspension of Maks-TV caused an outcry among liberal politicians and journalists. On December 10, the Sochi Electoral Commission sent a letter to the Press Ministry in Moscow declaring that Maks-TV’s electoral coverage had been within legal bounds, and denouncing the ministry’s order. Ten days later, the Moscow-based Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) dispatched a representative to Sochi to investigate the situation.

On December 21, after an appeal to Lesin from the chairman of TsIK, the station was allowed to resume broadcasting.

Oleg Lurye, Novaya Gazeta

At around 3 a.m. on December 17, four men assaulted Oleg Lurye, a reporter with the independent twice-weekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta, outside his house in Moscow. The men locked Lurye’s wife in the garage, where she was parking their car, and beat the journalist severely. Thinking they were muggers, Lurye offered the attackers his watch, jewelry, mobile phone, and car keys, but they took nothing and kept hitting him. The beating continued until Lurye passed out. The attackers fled only after Lurye’s wife broke through the garage door with the car.

Lurye was taken to the hospital, where he was admitted with severe skull and body injuries and deep cuts to his face. He was released after receiving emergency treatment and was recovering at home on sick leave as this volume went to press.

Lurye and his editors were convinced that the attack had been prompted by Lurye’s recent investigative articles on high-level government corruption. On the evening of the attack, the journalist had discussed his work during an appearance on the independent television station NTV. Immediately after this appearance, he noticed that he was being followed.

Twelve hours after the attack, Lurye’s editor, Georgy Rozhnov, received an anonymous phone call from a man who threatened that Rozhnov would also be beaten unless the newspaper stopped investigating official corruption.

The police opened an investigation into the attack on Lurye, but no arrests had been made at press time. CPJ protested the attack in a January 8, 2001, letter to President Vladimir Putin.

Anna Doktorova, RTR
Yury Gavryushin, RTR

Shortly before midnight on December 29, unidentified persons assaulted Doktorova and Gavryushin, reporter and cameraman for the state television network RTR’s “Vesti” news program. The attack took place a few miles from Sheremetevo International Airport in Moscow where the two journalists had been shooting a story about 600 RusAvia Airlines passengers who had been unable to fly to their destinations in Thailand and Bali because the airline’s registration was not in order.

When the RTR crew left the airport building, they found a flat tire on their van parked outside. They changed the tire and left the airport. A few minutes later, two cars ran the van off the road and forced it to stop.

Four men emerged from the two cars and surrounded the RTR crew, punching Gavryushin in the face. At gunpoint, they took two tapes containing footage from the airport shoot, along with equipment, including a camera, worth some US$60,000. In an interview with CPJ, “Vesti” editor Aleksandr Abramenko claimed that the assailants were connected to RusAvia Airlines.

The Interior Ministry launched an investigation under the personal control of Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, but no arrests had been made two weeks after the attack.