One journalist killed, another beaten in North Caucasus

New York, September 3, 2008–Authorities must thoroughly investigate the murder in Dagestan of Telman Alishayev, a reporter and host for the Islamic television channel TV-Chirkei, and the severe attack in Kabardino-Balkariya against Miloslav Bitokov, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Gazeta Yuga.

Alishayev died today of gunshot wounds sustained in an attack on Tuesday in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala. He is the second journalist to be shot and killed in the restive North Caucasus region in three days. Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of the critical news Web site Ingushetiya, was killed in the custody of Ingush police on Sunday.

In a separate incident, Bitokov was hospitalized today with multiple injuries after three unidentified men beat him at the entrance to his apartment building in Nalchik, capital of the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkariya.  

“Just three days after the death of our colleague Magomed Yevloyev, we mourn the loss of yet another Russian journalist. Our deepest condolences go to Telman Alishayev’s family, colleagues, and friends,” said Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “The vicious string of violence against journalists in the North Caucasus region can only be countered by the resolve of Russian authorities to solve these crimes. We call on police and prosecutors to aggressively investigate Telman Alishayev’s murder and Miloslav Bitokov’s beating, and to bring all of the perpetrators to justice.”

Two unidentified assassins approached Alishayev at around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and shot him with a Makarov pistol as he was sitting in his car, according to local press reports. A press officer with the Department of Internal Affairs in Makhachkala told the news agency Interfax that Alishayev sustained head and shoulder wounds.

Ali Kamalov, chairman of the Union of Dagestan’s Journalists, told CPJ that Alishayev hosted a religious and educational program called “Peace to Your Home.” He declined to speculate on the murder motive. According to local and international press reports, Alishayev was one of the producers of a documentary titled “Ordinary Wahhabism,” which criticized the conservative Sunni form of Islam.

Arsen Akhmedov, a spokesman for Dagestan prosecutor’s office, told the news agency RIA Novosti that prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the murder and had preliminarily identified a suspect.

In Nalchik, the assault occurred after Bitokov and his son, Gazeta Yuga correspondent Artur Bitokov, had driven home from work at around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The elder Bitokov got out of the car and was waiting at the entrance as his son was parking nearby, the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported. When Artur Bitokov arrived at the building’s entrance, he found his father lying on the ground in a pool of blood. Miloslav Bitokov was hospitalized with a concussion, broken nose and cheekbone, and lip lacerations, Novaya Gazeta said. The independent business daily Kommersant reported that the attackers did not take Bitokov’s cash or mobile phone.

The independent weekly Gazeta Yuga is one of the few news outlets in Kabardino-Balkariya to openly criticize local authorities. In 2007, the Kabardino-Balkariya branch of the state distribution company Rospechat abruptly stopped carrying Gazeta Yuga on its kiosk, citing financial issues. At the time, Bitokov told the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation he believed Rospechat severed its service because of Gazeta Yuga‘s coverage of the December 2007 Duma election in Kabardino-Balkariya.

In Novaya Gazeta and other news stories, Bitokov’s colleagues said they believe the attack is related to his work. His deputy, Zarema Khadartseva told Novaya Gazeta that Bitokov had previously received threats.