New York, April 16, 2018--Russian authorities must conduct a thorough investigation into the death of journalist Maksim Borodin and consider the possibility that he was killed in retribution for his reporting, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Borodin, a Yekaterinburg-based investigative correspondent for the independent news website Novy Den, died yesterday after falling on April 12 from the balcony of his fifth-floor apartment, local media and his employer reported.
In the past few weeks, Borodin gained national attention for his reporting on the deaths in Syria of Russian private military contractors fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, according to the Guardian. The journalist also reported on corruption and the prison system in his native region of Sverdlovsk, the paper reported.
"We call on Russian authorities to launch an effective, fair, and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Maksim Borodin's death and not to rule out foul play," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Russia has a record of brushing aside suspicious deaths of members of the press. We urge authorities on both the regional and federal level to consider that Borodin may have been attacked and that his investigative journalism was the motive."
Russian police have not opened a criminal investigation into Borodin's death and are investigating it as a suicide, according to news reports.
An unnamed spokesperson for Yekaterinburg's branch of Russia's Investigative Committee, the agency tasked with probing serious crimes, told the state news agency TASS that Borodin's apartment was locked from the inside and "there is no evidence of foul play." The spokesperson also said that investigators did not find a suicide note in the journalist's apartment.
Yekaterina Norseyeva, a Novy Den correspondent in Yekaterinburg, told CPJ today that it was "very unlikely" that Borodin had committed suicide. "He was going to be transferred to our Moscow bureau; he was full of plans," she said.
Borodin's friend, Vyacheslav Bashkov, on April 15 wrote on his Facebook page that Borodin contacted him at 5 a.m. on April 11 and said that "security forces" wearing camouflage and face masks were on his balcony and in the interior staircase of his building. Borodin told Bashkov that he thought the security forces were waiting for a court order to search his apartment and asked Bashkov to help him find a lawyer, according to the Facebook post.
Bashkov wrote on Facebook that Borodin called him back an hour later and said he was mistaken and the security officers were conducting a drill.
In his Facebook post, Bashkov said that he went to local police after he found out about Borodin's death, but police seemed uninterested and "did not question [him] about much."
In March 2007, Ivan Safronov, a military correspondent with the business daily Kommersant, fell to his death more than four stories from a staircase window in his Moscow apartment building, CPJ reported at the time. Prior to his death, Safronov covered sensitive topics including military hazing, shortcomings in Russian defense technology, and military testing failures. Despite many questions surrounding his death, Safronov's case was ruled as a suicide because of "lack of evidence of foul play," CPJ documented in its 2009 special report Anatomy of Injustice