Moscow, June 13, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by reported threats against Sergey Sokolov, deputy editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, by Russia’s top investigating official, Aleksandr Bastrykin.
“Novaya Gazeta, through its award-winning critical coverage, has made many enemies in Russia and has paid the highest possible price–five of its journalists have been murdered,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “It is absolutely unacceptable that Russia’s top investigating official would threaten the life of a journalist in clear response to his critical writing. We call on President Vladimir Putin to order an independent review of this alleged misconduct.”
Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, wrote in an open letter, published in Novaya Gazeta today, that Bastrykin invited Sokolov on June 4 to join him on a flight to Nalchik, the capital of the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. Once in the city, Bastrykin took Sokolov to a meeting, where he reportedly demanded an apology from Sokolov for an article he had written that was harshly critical of Bastrykin’s and other law enforcement’s alleged misconduct in a criminal case, the letter said. Muratov wrote that Sokolov apologized for the emotional tone of the article, but did not apologize for its content, which caused Bastrykin to reject the apology and demand that the journalist leave the room.
The letter said that when the group returned to Moscow, Bastrykin’s guards put Sokolov in a car and drove him to a forest outside of the city. Muratov wrote that Bastrykin asked his guards to leave them alone, and then threatened the journalist’s life.
“We are outraged not only by this alleged threat, but also by what it bodes for the investigations into the cases of the many murdered journalists in Russia,” said Ognianova. Twenty journalists have been murdered in direct retaliation for their work in Russia since 2000, with 18 cases remaining unsolved. This record has earned Russia ninth place on CPJ’s 2012 Impunity Index. A CPJ delegation met with Bastrykin to discuss this record of impunity in September 2010.
Novaya Gazeta is known for its investigative reports into official corruption, human rights abuses, and government wrongdoing, according to CPJ research. The paper’s staff has repeatedly been targeted in the past. In the most recent case, Elena Milashina, a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, was attacked outside her home in April, CPJ research shows.