New York, September 27, 2016--Authorities in Russia's southern Siberian republic of Altai should credibly investigate yesterday's assault on investigative journalist and journalism trainer Grigory Pasko and swiftly bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Pasko, the director of an organization that teaches investigative techniques to reporters and bloggers across Russia, yesterday arrived in Barnaul, the capital of the Altai Republic, to train local journalists, according to local press reports. After arriving in his hotel, Pasko noticed he was being followed by an unknown man, the journalist recounted on Facebook. His suspicions of surveillance were heightened when police arrived before the start of his training session and recorded all participants' passport details, saying that "they were checking for migrants," Pasko said. "We have never had such checks before, not since we started our training in 2009," he wrote on Facebook.
Today, according to press reports and his own account, two large, muscular men wearing dark sunglasses approached Pasko as he returned to his hotel after taking a walk around downtown Barnaul. One of them hit the journalist in the temple, knocking him to the ground. When Pasko defended himself, the attacker shouted at him, "Get out of our city! We are going to get you!"
"We call on Altai authorities to launch an immediate, credible investigation into the attack on veteran investigative journalist Grigory Pasko and the threats against him, and to ensure his safety," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "When journalists are attacked with impunity, all journalists are at greater risk."
Today's attack followed the publication of an article in the Barnaul edition of the nationalist website Monavista on the night of his arrival in Barnaul. The article called Pasko a "spy" and "traitor," and threatened him with retaliation for his work training local journalists in investigative reporting techniques.
"You will become the subject of our investigation and most acute attention," the author said. "You already have. We will make a film about your trip to Altai. All of your visit will be caught on camera. All persons you have talked to will be interviewed. We will interpret your every phrase." The piece called Pasko a "foreign agent," who arrived in Altai to teach local journalists "press freedom, the American way."
Pasko said he immediately reported the attack to the local police and was examined by a doctor. He then returned to his Barnaul hotel, he said on Facebook, where he noticed another unknown person he suspected of following him. Pasko said he alerted the hotel personnel about the incident and warned staff that his attackers had "promised to return."
Pasko was jailed from 1997-1998 and from 2000-2003 on trumped-up charges of espionage related to his investigative reports on environmental dangers and their effects on the health of the Russian people, CPJ reported at the time.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The final paragraph has been modified to correctly reflect Pasko's activities in the late 1990s.