In a benchmark verdict, Russian court convicts 5 in reporter’s murder

New York, August 30, 2007—A court in Russia’s west-central republic of Tatarstan has convicted five members of a criminal gang in the 2000 murder of Novaya Gazeta journalist Igor Domnikov, the newspaper reported today. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed this important development, but urged authorities to vigorously prosecute the masterminds of the crime.

The convictions are the first involving a journalist murdered for his or her work since 2000, CPJ research shows. During that time, CPJ found, at least 14 journalists have been slain in reprisal for their reporting.

“Justice has been served in a journalist murder for the first time since President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We commend the court in Tatarstan for this groundbreaking step in the fight against impunity in the killing of journalists. The authorities must now go further, and find and prosecute the masterminds of Igor Domnikov’s brutal murder.”

The defendants were among 16 gang members standing trial in the republic’s capital, Kazan, for a series of killings and abductions. The verdict was handed down on Tuesday, but was not widely known until Novaya Gazeta, a thrice-weekly based in Moscow, reported the result today.

Presiding Judge Ildus Gataulin handed down verdicts against Eduard Tagiryanov, head of the organized crime group known as Tagiryanovtsy; and gang members Sergei Babkov, Albert Khuzin, Nikolai Kazakov, and Gennady Bezuglov. Tagiryanov and Babkov were sentenced to life in prison; Khuzin, Kazakov, and Bezuglov are to serve 25, 19, and 18 years, respectively, in a high-security prison colony, according to Novaya Gazeta.

Novaya Gazeta Editor Dmitry Muratov told CPJ that Domnikov’s colleagues are pleased with the verdicts but will continue their efforts to bring the masterminds to justice. The paper has investigated the case extensively.

Domnikov, 42, a reporter and special-projects editor for the independent Moscow newspaper, was struck repeatedly on the head with a heavy object outside his apartment building on May 12, 2000. He died on July 16 of that year, after spending two months in a coma.

Between May 1999 and February 2000, Domnikov published five articles in Novaya Gazeta criticizing the economic policies of Sergei Dorovskoi, a former Lipetsk Region vice governor. Novaya Gazeta, citing documents related to the preliminary police investigation, has publicly called for prosecutors to open a case against Dorovskoi. He has denied any involvement in the slaying.

The verdicts in the Domnikov case come the same week Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced that 10 suspects have been arrested in the 2006 murder of another Novaya Gazeta journalist—renowned investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya. Three reporters for Novaya Gazeta, a paper known for its hard-hitting journalism, have been killed for their work since 2000, according to CPJ research