CPJ urges European court to make Russian murder case a priority

July 21, 2006

Mr. Luzius WildhaberPresident of the European Court of Human Rights
Council of Europe
F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex

Via Facsimile: +33 3 88 41 27 30

Dear Mr. Wildhaber:

We are writing from the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, to ask that you give priority to the case of Zoya and Yuri Kholodov v. Russia (Case No. 30651/05).

CPJ has been researching the murder of Russian journalist Dmitry Kholodov since October 1994 when the 27-year-old reporter for the independent newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets was killed by a booby-trapped briefcase in his office. Kholodov, who wrote extensively about corruption in the Russian military, had been told that the briefcase contained secret documents exposing corruption in the military’s highest ranks.

We were heartened to learn last August of the court’s consent to hear charges that Russian authorities failed to properly investigate and prosecute Dmitry Kholodov’s murder. The case was filed by legal representatives for the journalist’s parents, Yuri and Zoya Kholodov.

While taking into account the court’s significant case load, we urge you to give priority to the Kholodov appeal. Yuri and Zoya Kholodov have devoted their lives to pursuing justice in their son’s death and have exhausted all domestic legal remedies in the past 12 years, including an appeal to the Russian Supreme Court.

The problem of impunity is the most serious threat to press freedom in Russia today. Journalists fearing for their lives cannot do their jobs, and news coverage of important events is chilled as a result. The problem is aggravated by the failure of Russian prosecutors and courts to investigate, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators of crimes against journalists.

In the past six years alone, 12 journalists have been murdered in Russia, contract-style, in retaliation for their reporting. In none of these cases have Russian authorities punished the murderers or masterminds. These crimes have earned Russia a spot among the world’s most murderous countries for journalists. (For more information, see related CPJ reports online at http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2005/murderous_05/murderous_05.html and
http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2005/russia_murders/russia_murders.html )

The Russian government’s systemic failure to investigate these murders has undermined freedom of expression and other basic human rights. If this pattern goes unchecked, we are deeply concerned that the situation will worsen. The court’s urgent attention to the Kholodov case–which is emblematic of the pervasive impunity in Russia–would demonstrate the international community’s concern.

The court would also send an important message to Russian authorities that impunity in violent crimes against journalists cannot be tolerated. That would give much-needed hope to the relatives of other slain Russian journalists who have been denied justice.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.


Joel Simon
Executive Director