CPJ makes headway in cases in Russia, Georgia

Amid ongoing attacks on journalists, CPJ advocacy in Europe and Central Asia has generated some positive results. Earlier this month, a CPJ delegation met with Russian and European officials, who promised to revisit 17 journalist murders in Russia since 2000. The declared commitment to reverse Russia’s grim record of impunity came after we presented our own in-depth investigation into the unsolved killings of Russian journalists in our report Anatomy of Injustice.

Russian prosecutors have yet to report results in probes into two brutal beatings: Mikhail Beketov in Khimki and Vadim Rogozhin in Saratov. But at least their colleagues in Abakan and Tbilisi have dropped some bogus criminal charges against journalists following our advocacy.

When an explosion at the Russia’s biggest power plant in southern Siberia claimed dozens of lives in mid-August, Mikhail Afanasyev and his colleagues at the online magazine Novy Fokus immediately reported on the accident. The journalists challenged the state’s response to the explosion and said they believed workers were still trapped in sections of the plant. They hoped officials would respond, and, in a way, they did–Abakan regional authorities opened a criminal case against the journalist, claiming he had slandered local officials. Afanasyev faced up to three years in prison if convicted.

Alarmed by this Soviet-style clampdown, CPJ urged Abakan prosecutors to drop charges against Afanasyev immediately. And angered by the prosecution of their colleague, independent Russian journalists fiercely criticized regional authorities. Facing mounting outrage, police closed the case against the journalist, the Russian press reported in early September.

In mid-September, CPJ learned that yet another Russian reporter faced jail time in connection with his journalism. On September 3, Georgian authorities filed a criminal forgery charge against Besik Pipia, Tbilisi bureau chief for the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti. Pipia told CPJ that authorities claimed that he had forged a driver’s license that was first issued in 1991. The journalist, whose accreditation has not been renewed since May, said his license had expired and he had asked Georgian authorities in June to renew it. He next heard from authorities when prosecutors told him of the criminal charge, which coincided with Georgia’s denial of entry to two Russian journalists who planned to attend a public forum in Tbilisi. RIA-Novosti told CPJ they believed Pipia was harassed due to his work for a Russian news agency and asked for our help in the case.

We are aware that one-sided reporting by state-controlled channels in Russia and Georgia on the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia has undermined attitudes toward journalists from the opposing sides in the two countries. So we took Pipia’s case. On September 18, CPJ urged Georgian authorities to drop all charges against the journalist, who we believed was singled out for working for a Russian news agency. A week later, RIA-Novosti told us Pipia was cleared of all the charges following our advocacy on his behalf.