Russian journalist assassinated in Dagestan

New York, June 30, 2005—
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the murder late Tuesday of Magomedzagid Varisov, a prominent journalist and political analyst, who was gunned down in a contract-style assassination in Makhachkala, capital of the Russian republic of Dagestan.

Machine-gun toting assailants opened fire on Varisov’s sedan at around 9 p.m. as he was returning home with his wife and driver. Varisov sustained multiple bullet wounds and died at the scene. His wife was not injured; the driver was hospitalized with injuries, according to local press reports.

The Kirovsky District prosecutor’s office is considering several possible motives, but it considers Varisov’s journalism to be the most likely motive, local reports said.

For the past three years, Varisov wrote analytical articles for the Makhachkala-based Novoye Delo (New Business), Dagestan’s largest weekly. Rumina Elmurzayeva, editor of Novoye Delo, told CPJ in a telephone interview today that Varisov had his own page devoted to political analysis, which was often critical of the Dagestan opposition. Varisov wrote that the opposition was trying to destabilize the republic and topple the regional government. Varisov also wrote about organized crime and terrorism, local reports said.

Varisov headed the Republican Center for Strategic Initiatives and Political Technologies, a center for political analysis in Makhachkala, Elmurzayeva told CPJ. Varisov was considered a leading expert on the North Caucasus region, and his expertise was sought by many Russian journalists, she said.

In the most recent issue of Novoye Delo, Varisov examined a Russian army unit’s June 4 sweep in the Chechen border town of Borozdinovskaya in which one person was killed and 11 others were reported missing. Ethnic Avars, fearing for their lives, left Borozdinovskaya by the hundreds and crossed into neighboring Dagestan, local reports said.

“Varisov criticized Chechen authorities in his article for failing to protect the safety of Borozdinovskaya residents and appealed to Dagestan authorities to do right by them,” Elmurzayeva told CPJ.

For the past year, Varisov had spoken of threats against him and had written about those threats in articles for Novoye Delo, Elmurzayeva told CPJ. He complained that unknown individuals were following him, and he unsuccessfully sought protection from Makhachkala law enforcement authorities.

“We condemn the murder of our colleague Magomedzagid Varisov and call on Russian authorities to investigate this brutal crime aggressively and bring the perpetrators to justice,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

At least 11 other journalists have been killed in contract-style slayings in Russia since 2000, making the country one of the most murderous for journalists worldwide, according to CPJ research.