Reporters, CPJ brief Congressional caucus on dangers facing Russian journalists

Washington, June 28, 2007
—Two exiled Russian journalists and a CPJ representative told the Congressional Human Rights Caucus today about widespread impunity in journalist murders in Russia and the perils facing independent journalists who cover the volatile North Caucasus.

The delegation voiced its deep concern about the growing number of critical Russian journalists murdered, attacked and threatened in retaliation for their work—and the failure of Russian authorities to apprehend and punish those responsible. Reporters Yuri Bagrov and Fatima Tlisova, who were forced to leave Russia after repeated threats, joined CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova in making the presentation.

“Every death of a journalist in the line of duty is hard to bear,” Ognianova said. “But the loss of our colleagues feels particularly acute when they are deliberately murdered in retaliation for their journalism and when their killers remain unpunished.”

According to CPJ research, Russia is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists over the past 15 years, behind only the conflict-ridden countries of Iraq and Algeria. A total of 47 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992, with the vast majority of killings unsolved.

In the past seven years alone, 17 journalists have been killed in Russia in the line of duty. Fourteen were murdered in retaliation for their professional work; two died in crossfire; and one was killed while covering a dangerous assignment. In addition, CPJ continues to investigate the deaths of eight other journalists to determine whether they were work-related.

None of the 14 murders committed since 2000 has been solved. Of the killings during that period, 13 bear the marks of contract hits. CPJ considers a killing contract-style when the evidence shows that the murder was carried out by an assassin at the behest of one or more masterminds.

Bagrov and Tlisova, both former North Caucasus correspondents for The Associated Press and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who fled Russia to escape persecution, gave their personal accounts to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. They spoke of harassment, obstruction, and attacks endured at the hands of the Federal Security Services (FSB). This spring, unable to continue their work unobstructed, Bagrov and Tlisova resettled in the United States after receiving refugee status.

Formerly based in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, Bagrov had covered the region since the onset of the Second Chechen War in 1999. Among his stories: the purported role of the Federal Security Services (FSB) in civilian abductions in the republic of Ingushetia; and the carefully guarded casualty figures for federal soldiers and police forces in Chechnya. In 2004, the local FSB branch stripped him of his passport and citizenship, making him a prisoner in his own hometown. He could not travel and authorities denied him accreditation to press conferences, official gatherings, and court hearings—including those related to the most important story of his region, the Beslan hostage crisis of 2005. He was placed under FSB surveillance and anonymous callers harassed his wife, Marina, looking for “Bagrov’s widow.”

Fatima Tlisova reported from various parts of the North Caucasus as a correspondent for the AP, RFE/RL, the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, as well as for a number of domestic news outlets, including the independent Moscow twice-weekly Novaya Gazeta. Tlisova reported on illegal detentions, disappearances, and torture in the autonomous Caucasus regions of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia. After speaking at an international forum about the dangers to press freedom in the North Caucasus, Tlisova’s home was searched by unknown masked men. In 2004, while working in Kabardino-Balkaria, she was kidnapped, driven into a forest, beaten, and burned with lit cigarettes.

“It is outrageous that our colleagues Yuri Bagrov and Fatima Tlisova were forced to flee their country simply because they were doing their job,” Ognianova told the caucus. “Had Tlisova stayed in Russia, she would have risked the fate of Anna Politkovskaya, and Bagrov would have been incapacitated as a journalist. This is simply unacceptable.”

CPJ asked the caucus to take the lead in denouncing the murders of journalists in Russia. In particular, the delegation called on the Caucus to demand a complete and transparent investigation into the recent murders of Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovksaya and Kommersant military correspondent Ivan Safronov.