Journalist dies in hospital after being shot

New York, January 13, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities in the northern city of Murmansk to thoroughly investigate the death of Shafig Amrakhov, editor of the online regional news agency RIA 51

Amrakhov died in a Murmansk hospital on January 5, having slipped into a coma after at least one unidentified assailant shot him in the head several times a week earlier. The type of gun used is known in Russia as a “traumatic pistol.” It uses rubber bullets and is considered a non-lethal, self-defense weapon, local press reported.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Shafig Amrakhov and angered at yet another violent attack on a Russian journalist,” CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Murmansk authorities to thoroughly investigate the killing, including a possible connection to Amrakhov’s journalism.”

Amrakhov was attacked on the evening of December 30 by at least one unknown man waiting for him by the elevator in his Murmansk apartment building. Amrakhov was conscious immediately after the attack, according to local news reports, and told details to his relatives–he had called his family using the building’s intercom minutes before, asking them to buzz him in, the reports said. The assailant shot the journalist in the head and ran out. An ambulance took him to the Murmansk Regional Hospital, where he underwent a six-hour-long emergency surgery. He died six days later, having never regained consciousness, local television channel TV-21 reported.

Local police have opened a criminal case into the incident and are considering several motives for the attack, including Amrakhov’s journalism, TV-21 said. However, the channel said that the choice of the weapon suggests that the attackers aimed to intimidate rather than kill Amrakhov. The Murmansk police have not commented on the investigation. RIA 51 reports news from and about the Murmansk region.

According to the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation, this was not the first attack against Amrakhov. In 1997, an unknown assailant attacked the journalist in the entrance of his apartment building and hit him on the head with a blunt object; he suffered a concussion, the foundation reported. The attacker was never found.

In February 2008, Amrakhov publicly protested the authorities’ decision to deny him accreditation for then-President Vladimir Putin’s last press conference as head of state. In his public letter–carried by local media–Amrakhov also criticized the economic policy of Murmansk Governor Yuri Yevdokimov.