Russia, EU tell CPJ they will act on Russian murders

On September 15, a CPJ delegation released a special report in Moscow on impunity in journalist killings committed in Russia under the country’s current leadership. The report, Anatomy of Injustice, garnered an unusual amount of attention from the Russian media. Our press conference at the Independent Press Center was packed with journalists, both domestic and international; representatives from 20 news agencies, print and online publications, and radio and television outlets covered the release. The high attendance was a clear sign of the magnitude of the issue and the urgent need for it to be addressed.

Secrecy, obstruction of due process, corruption in law enforcement, conflicts of interest within the investigating agencies, and the lack of an effective means of accountability are among the major speed-bumps on the road to achieving justice in the 17 cases examined in detail in our report. Only in one of those cases–that of Novaya Gazeta journalist Igor Domnikov–have the killers been convicted; in all cases, the masterminds behind the murders remain at large.

At CPJ’s press conference, the issue gained a human dimension with the spontaneous appeal of Rimma Maksimova, the mother of St. Petersburg journalist Maksim Maksimov, who disappeared in 2004 and was later declared killed. Maksimova, who had traveled to Moscow from Germany to attend our event, said: “For five years, I have been bumping my head into an impervious wall,” she said. “No one talks to me, no one responds to my requests for information.” Maksimova also blamed the Russian public for their seeming indifference to the issue, and the media for failing to cover the complete lack of lack of movement in the case of her slain son.

In Moscow, CPJ board member Kati Marton, Brussels-based senior adviser Jean-Paul Marthoz, and I met with dozens of journalists, human rights defenders, press freedom advocates, foreign diplomats, and Russian government officials in an attempt to shed light on the issue and urge responses. On some occasions, we were there mostly to listen; on others, to lend hope the best we could.

Often we held meetings to press for action. Such were our meetings with Ella Pamfilova, the head of the presidential human rights council, whom CPJ first met with in 2007, three months after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya; and with the Investigative Committee at Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office–the agency directly responsible for solving the murders.

Pamfilova, who serves as a liaison between Russia’s top leaders and civil society, promised to hand a copy of our report to President Dmitry Medvedev. Pamfilova told us that she shared our concerns and found the report’s recommendations–particularly those aimed at Russia’s law enforcement–practical and useful. In our meeting with the Investigative Committee, we engaged in a substantive discussion on the specific cases examined in our report as well as on the need to start reversing the record of impunity in the murders of journalists. We spoke of setting a precedent by bringing at least one journalist murder to a successful conclusion–with both the immediate killers and the masterminds brought to justice.

The very fact that the Investigative Committee allotted an 11-member team to meeting with CPJ, and that the Foreign Ministry sent its own representative to engage with us on the issue, demonstrates that Russia’s government realizes the significance of the matter, and its negative repercussions for Russia’s image abroad and rule of law at home. They seem to recognize the need to remedy the record. This is a welcome change from Russia’s previous, largely nonresponsive behavior to similar calls for substantive dialogue. But willingness to meet should not be confused with the will to act, which is yet to come. And CPJ will be calling the Investigative Committee on its commitment to make headway in the 17 cases–we agreed to come back to Moscow and meet with the agency in a year for a progress update.

After releasing our report in Moscow, CPJ traveled to London to launch Anatomy of Injustice in the United Kingdom by holding a joint panel with local press freedom group Index on Censorship. The panel also featured the director of the BBC’s Global News division, Richard Sambrook, and prominent Russian journalist-in-exile Manana Aslamazian. Elisabeth Witchel, the coordinator of CPJ’s Campaign Against Impunity, and I met with journalists, human rights advocates, and local think tanks to share the findings of our report and strategize about a unified approach to combating the problem. The consensus was immediate–a more focused and coordinated effort among press freedom groups in Russia and abroad is necessary; the moment to act is now. We also met with representatives from the Russia Section at the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, who demonstrated deep awareness of the problem and promised to continue to press Russia on it in bilateral and multilateral meetings.

In Brussels, Jean-Paul Marthoz, senior adviser to CPJ’s Impunity Campaign, and I finished a full round of meetings with representatives of the European Parliament and the European Commission. We shared the findings of Anatomy of Injustice with them and discussed the levels of engagement between Russia and the European Union on the issue of impunity. We received assurance that the EU remains committed to supporting journalists and human rights defenders on the ground in Russia. Anatomy of Injustice, representatives told CPJ, will be used as a working document in preparation for upcoming dialogue sessions between the EU and Russia, scheduled to start in early November. CPJ is also due to meet with representatives from the European Council, the European Union’s main governing body, on Tuesday.

(Reporting from Brussels)