Neo-Nazis threaten to murder journalists in Russia

New York, February 11, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for Russian authorities to immediately investigate a death threat that was sent to a human rights research center. In an e-mail, a neo-Nazi group threatened to murder a number of journalists and intellectuals in the next year, according to the recipient of the threat.

The sender told Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy head of the human rights research center SOVA, which documents the activities of radical nationalist, neo-fascist, and xenophobic groups in Russia, to “prepare” to be the next in line, and made reference to recently slain lawyer Stanislav Markelov. Markelov was shot at the same time as Anastasiya Baburova, a Novaya Gazeta journalist who was with him. Kozhevnikova told CPJ she received the message, signed by a Russian neo-Nazi group known as “BTO,” on Sunday, a day after SOVA announced plans to hold a press conference on the rise of related crimes.

“We are alarmed by this threat against those who cover growing neo-fascist crimes in Russia,” said Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “We call on Russian authorities to give personal protection to Kozhevnikova, and to treat this incident with the utmost priority. The murder of Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasiya Baburova makes swift and decisive police action all the more urgent.”

The e-mail was sent to SOVA on Sunday, Kozhevnikova told CPJ. It singled out journalists, editors, experts, and university professors who cover anti-extremism because, it said, such assassinations get more press coverage. The message said the group had been monitoring Kozhevnikova’s public engagements and publications, and specifically mentioned today’s SOVA press conference, at which she was a speaker. The press conference took place at the Independent Press Center in Moscow, where Markelov held his last news conference before he was murdered just outside along with Baburova.

Kozhevnikova told CPJ this was not the first time she has been threatened but that this was the most direct and open threat she has received. She said neo-Nazis in Russia maintain Web sites and blogs where names of journalists and human rights activists, including her own, are posted as enemies of the state. Last year, Moscow police opened an investigation into the postings but have so far made no arrests. Kozhevnikova told CPJ she reported Sunday’s death threat to Moscow police immediately. Today’s press conference was heavily guarded by police, although Kozhevnikova was not given personal protection.

In a February 4 letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev CPJ highlighted the timeliness of the work of slain journalist Baburova, who covered the rise of neo-Nazi activities, and called on him to ensure that the murder is solved.