New York, July 7, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about the safety of Ali Astamirov, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency, who was abducted on Friday, July 4, by unknown armed assailants in Ingushetia, according to sources in Russia.
Astamirov, who previously worked for Chechnya’s Grozny Television and reported on Chechnya and Chechen refugees, was based in Ingushetia’s capital, Nazran. The journalist was kidnapped while he and two colleagues, humanitarian worker Ruslan Musayev and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) stringer Aslambek Dadayev, were driving through Nazran and stopped for gas. A white vehicle blocked the car, and armed men, wearing masks and camouflage attire, seized the journalists’ cell phones, pulled Astamirov out of the car, and drove off. According to Dadayev’s account in the Russian press, the abductors drove off in the direction of Chechnya.
Three days after the incident, Astamirov’s fate remains unknown, and the abductors have not contacted the journalist’s family or AFP with demands.
Michel Viateau, AFP bureau chief in Moscow, told CPJ in a telephone interview that the kidnapping may be connected with Astamirov’s journalism, although he could not point to specific reasons.
Russian law enforcement authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the incident.
“We call for our colleague’s immediate release,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We urge all parties in the Chechen conflict to guarantee the safety of journalists working in the region.”