Russian journalist found dead hours after broadcast on prior attack

New York, April 13, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Russian authorities to fully investigate the death of Vyacheslav Ifanov, a cameraman for the independent Novoye Televideniye Aleiska (NTA), in the Siberian city of Aleisk. Prosecutors have classified Ifanov’s death as suicide by gas poisoning, but relatives and colleagues suspect foul play.

“We mourn the death of our colleague Vyachelsav Ifanov and our hearts go to his family in this difficult time,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Based on the circumstances surrounding his death, the wounds found on his body, and possible threats he had received prior to his alleged suicide, we call on Russian authorities to investigate every lead, including the possibility that Ifanov was murdered.”

The night before he died, 29-year-old Ifanov was featured in a television report that described an earlier attack against him and the reluctance of local police to investigate, according to local press reports. In the April 4 broadcast, Ifanov said he hoped to identify his attackers soon with the help of police, the Moscow-based daily Izvestiya reported.

Ifanov was referring to an incident in the early hours of January 21, when a group of unidentified men wearing camouflage attacked him after he filmed them gathered in the center of Aleisk, according to local press reports. Ifanov thought the gathering was suspicious. After realizing they were being filmed, the men broke the journalist’s camera, destroyed his footage, and severely beat him. During the attack, the men told the journalist: “We warned you that military reconnaissance works here, but you didn’t listen,” the Novosibirsk State Television and Radio Company quoted Ifanov as saying. The journalist sustained a concussion in the attack and spent several days in the hospital, according to local press reports.

Ifanov was found dead in his garage by a neighbor, who heard the journalist’s car running with the garage doors shut. The neighbor, Viktor Langolf, found Ifanov’s body slumped between his car and a wall of the garage, the Moscow-based news agency Regnum reported. Langolf said the doors were locked from the inside, according to local press reports. Police said there were no signs of violence, according to local press reports.

The journalist’s family said Ifanov’s body showed bruising on the lower lip and wrist, as well as deep scratches on the left side of his head, according to local press reports. Valentina Ifanova, the journalist’s mother, told the Novosibirsk State Television and Radio Company that she believes Ifanov’s death is related to the January attack.

Izvestiya reported that Ifanov’s autopsy contained several errors, such as missing words and conflicting information. According to Izvestiya, the autopsy report states “on the right side of the lower lip there is”—with the remaining words missing. Also, in the second paragraph, the report says that Ifanov’s body was found between the car and the western wall of the garage, but in the third paragraph it states the body was between the car and the eastern wall, Izvestiya reported.

On April 4, Ifanov worked until 7 p.m. and then spent the rest of the evening with a friend, Aleksandr Udin, who said the journalist had been in a good mood, according to local press reports. Udin said that the journalist mentioned there was some progress in the case regarding the attack but did not elaborate, Izvestiya reported. Ifanov left Udin’s house at around 2 a.m.; according to the autopsy, the journalist died two hours later at 4 a.m., Regnum reported.

Local press reports said that Ifanov had received threats prior to his death and was told to withdraw his criminal complaint for the January attack. NTA Director Yevgeny Filippov told CPJ he was unaware of threats against Ifanov.