Unnamed suspect arrested in slaying; police say robbery was motive

New York, July 31, 2006—Authorities in the southern city of Saratov arrested a 39-year-old homeless man on Sunday in the slaying of Yevgeny Gerasimenko, a correspondent for the independent weekly Saratovsky Rasklad whose body was found strangled in his apartment on July 26, local press reports said.

The Department of Internal Affairs (GUVD), which is handling the investigation, did not identify the suspect by name but said the case has been “solved.” The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed skepticism about the disposition of the case, noting that important questions are unanswered.

The Saratov news Web site SaratovBiznesKonsalting quoted investigators as saying that the suspect had been drinking with friends before breaking into Gerasimenko’s apartment. Aleksandr Krasnoslobodtsev, a GUVD spokesman, told the United Volga news Web site that the “murder was committed completely with the goal to steal personal possessions from the victim.” The Saratov prosecutor’s office said the journalist’s computer, mobile phone, and “other items” were stolen, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

Investigators allege that the suspect confessed to entering Gerasimenko’s first-floor apartment through a kitchen window, United Volga reported. Authorities say Gerasimenko intervened and a fight ensued, during which the suspect struck Gerasimenko, tied him to a chair, and put a plastic bag over his head, United Volga reported.

Gerasimenko, 29, had been working for Saratovsky Rasklad, a weekly that publishes business and political-related analyses and investigation. Prior to his death, Gerasimenko had been investigating the corporate takeover of a local commercial enterprise. Colleagues said he could have been killed for his work. (For more information, see related CPJ alert.)

Authorities did not disclose details of the suspect’s arrest, nor did they explain why they would not identify him by name, press reports said.

“While we welcome developments in the murder of our colleague Yevgeny Gerasimenko, reports thus far leave important questions unanswered,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Given the sensitive nature of Gerasimenko’s work prior to his killing, it is imperative that authorities investigate thoroughly the possible professional motives in the slaying.”

Impunity in journalist murders remains the gravest threat to press freedom in Russia, which is one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism in the world, according to CPJ research. At least 12 journalists have been murdered in contract-style killings since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000; all cases remain unsolved. (See CPJ Russia contract hits list.)