Russian newspaper editor dies from head injuries

New York, June 29, 2009The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for an independent investigation into the death of Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, editor-in-chief of the Rostov-on-Don newspaper Korruptsiya i Prestupnost, who succumbed today to head injuries suffered in an April attack, according to press reports. 

Yaroshenko was found unconscious with a head wound in the entrance of his apartment building early on the morning of April 30. He was hospitalized with skull and brain trauma, underwent surgery, and spent five days in a coma, his deputy, Sergei Sleptsov, told CPJ at the time.

Sleptsov told Russian news outlets today that Yaroshenko’s condition had taken a turn for the worse in the past few days; doctors operated again today, but the editor did not survive. Sleptsov told press outlets that Rostov police did not investigate what happened to Yaroshenko in April, but said they had immediately ruled out criminality.

Sleptsov said he believes Yaroshenko was attacked in retaliation for his newspaper’s work. Korruptsiya i Prestupnost, an independent paper whose title translates as “Corruption and Crime,” has reported on corruption allegations involving Rostov law enforcement agencies. “I don’t have even the smallest doubt,” Sleptsov told the opposition news Web site Kasparov. “Our newspaper was published on eight pages; seven of them were allotted to corruption in the law enforcement structures.”

“We send our heartfelt condolences to Vyacheslav Yaroshenko’s family, friends, and colleagues,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Russian federal authorities to open an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of the editor’s death. The possibility that Yaroshenko may have been targeted because of his newspaper’s coverage of alleged corruption in Rostov law enforcement agencies calls for the assignment of outside, independent investigators to this case.”

Rostov law enforcement officials have given conflicting accounts of what happened to Yaroshenko in April. Immediately after Yaroshenko was hospitalized, Rostov police said he was injured in a fistfight on a local street, Grigory Bochkaryov, a local correspondent for the Russian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told CPJ. Bochkaryov said police later said that Yaroshenko had injured himself by falling down the stairs in the entrance of his apartment building.

In the weeks before the incident, Korruptsiya i Prestupnost had published a number of articles on alleged corruption in the Rostov regional government, police, and the prosecutor’s office. Sleptsov confirmed today that the paper is carrying out its own investigation into the editor’s death.

Russia is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists and the ninth worst in solving reporters’ killings, according to CPJ research. In a June 25 letter, CPJ urged U.S. President Barack Obama to address the pressing issue of impunity in violent crimes against the press when he meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow next week.