London, October 20, 2021 — After years of waiting, this week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Russian authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation into the disappearance and alleged murder of investigative journalist Maksim Maksimov in 2004.
“Seventeen years after Maksim Maksimov disappeared, this judgment is a step forward towards justice both for him and for all journalists working in countries where free reporting places their lives at risk,” said Joanna Evans, Legal Director at the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) in London.
Maksimov was last seen on June 29, 2004, and was investigating police corruption by senior officers of the Russian Ministry of Interior at the time of his death.
Following the state’s failure to yield any tangible results in the case, Maksimov’s family – represented by EHRAC and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) – brought the case before the ECtHR, submitting that his murder was motivated by his journalistic activities, in particular his investigation into police corruption.
“Maksim Maksimov is one of many Russian journalists whose case the Russian authorities have tried to sweep under the rug for too long”, said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said in New York.
“We welcome the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. It means that justice does not remain elusive and the impunity in the journalist’s killing can end. We call on the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough, effective and swift investigation into Maksimov’s death and bring those responsible to justice.”
In 2009, before the case was filed, CPJ described Russia as the third deadliest state for journalists, followed by (at that time) only Algeria and post-invasion Iraq. According to CPJ data, at least 58 journalists and media workers have been killed in Russia in relation to their work since 1992. The UN Human Rights Committee had also expressed concern over the “alarming incidence of threats, violent assaults and murders of journalists and human rights defenders” in Russia. In its October 19 judgment, the ECtHR ruled that the state’s investigation into Maksimov’s disappearance fell below the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Court outlined a number of “deficiencies” in the state’s criminal proceedings linked to “their adequacy, promptness and reasonable expedition”, which led it to conclude that the investigation had not been effective, as required by Article 2 of the ECHR (right to life).
In the years following Maksimov’s disappearance, investigations were carried out by the authorities, but were marred by issues including evidence being lost and a failure to interview witnesses.
In 2006, CPJ wrote to President Putin expressing deep concern over the lack of progress made in the investigation into Maksimov’s disappearance.
CPJ said that the St. Petersburg newspaper Smena reported in June 2005 that it had learned from sources in the local branch of the Interior Ministry that Maksimov’s killing was “a contract-style hit, organised by high-ranking investigators” in response to his investigations into corruption.
Following the ECtHR judgment, EHRAC will be calling on the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to press the Russian authorities to carry out an effective investigation into Maksimov’s presumed death.For more information, please contact PressEHRAC@mdx.ac.uk