Murder pushes Novaya Gazeta to request guns

By Nina Ognianova/Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator on January 23, 2009 2:33 PM ET

In a November 2007 interview, just before receiving CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the embattled Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, recalled the loss of three colleagues to work-related murders in six years. "We have suffered war-like casualties," Muratov said. 

First, Igor Domnikov was murdered: "They beat him to death using hammers at the entrance of his apartment building." Then Muratov's deputy, Yuri Shchekochikhin, died from mysterious poisoning: "Within one week, he turned from a youthful man into a frail, old person with no hair on his head and at one-third of his normal weight." Then Anna Politkovskaya was shot to death.

Dmitry Muratov at an undated Novaya Gazeta staff meeting. (Novaya Gazeta)

"These were three pillars, three islands, on which the newspaper was standing--Domnikov, Shchekochikhin, and Politkovskaya," Muratov concluded. The portraits of the three hang from a wall in Novaya's main lobby--silent participants in the staff meetings that take place there at least twice a week around a large wooden table.

On Monday, Novaya suffered one more "battle casualty"--25-year-old Anastasiya Baburova, a student in her last year studying journalism at Moscow State University who had worked for the paper part-time since October, covering the rise of ultranationalist groups in Russia, was shot and killed in downtown Moscow. Baburova was talking to human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov after a news conference he had given to criticize the early release of a Russian ex-colonel imprisoned for committing a grave crime in Chechnya. It was 3 p.m. on a busy street when the journalist and the lawyer were approached by an unknown gunman. He first shot Markelov in the back of the head, then shot Baburova when she tried to intervene. Markelov died at the scene; Baburova, several hours later at a Moscow hospital.

Baburova's murder seems to have been the last straw for Novaya Gazeta, the last act to lay bare the harsh truth--that despite government pledges that journalists will be protected, that rule of law is an utmost priority of the Medvedev-Putin administration, that crimes against reporters will be investigated to the end--journalists (and now their lawyers, too) in Russia are at risk of being slaughtered brazenly, in broad daylight, and with impunity.

And so yesterday's announcement by Novaya Gazeta shareholder Aleksandr Lebedev that the paper intends to appeal for official permission to carry weapons comes as no surprise, at least to me. "The FSB [Federal Security Service] has a share of responsibility about what happens to Novaya Gazeta," Lebedev told journalists at a press conference in Moscow. "If the FSB is unable to guarantee the protection and safety of our journalists, we will try to defend them ourselves."

In an interview for the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, Muratov never directly confirmed that he agreed with Lebedev; instead he gave listeners food for thought: "You tell me. ... We have three options. The first one--to leave and turn off the lights ... The second--to stop working. In other words, to stop writing about the special services, corruption, drugs, construction, fascists; to stop investigating the crimes of the powerful structures. Just to stop working! ... The third option is to somehow defend ourselves. The state cannot defend us. It just cannot! It has gigantic defense budgets, a huge number of agencies. But, in general, it is busy doing its own business."

Later in the interview, Muratov described the work conditions for independent reporters in Russia as worse than war-like. "This is a terror," he said, "a terror against those who maintain and defend an independent position. These murderers, and all their curators and masterminds ... feel confident in their license to kill."

I understand the frustration in the face of unchecked violence against your own, the bottomless grief that turns to anger, the urge to react in unconventional, perhaps extreme ways. (All the more when the conventional ways simply don't work). When a paper loses four journalists to murders those are extreme circumstances. And desperate times call for desperate measures, or so the saying goes.

Would carrying a gun help? Ultimately, the enemies of the free press in Russia will not be defeated with weapons in the streets, by the metro stop where Anastasiya Baburova was slain, in the apartment building entrance where Igor Domnikov was bludgeoned to death, or by the elevator where Anna Politkovskaya was shot. These killers must be fought in a court of law, in trials open to the public and the press, by independent judges and fairly selected juries. And they must be defeated.


Actually it is not clear form the article who will be carrying the guns assuming they get permission to.

Will it be journalists themselves or will it be separate security men?

The request is for Novaya's journalists themselves to receive permission to carry guns for self-defense.

It's very unlikely that the paper will get the permission. Earlier today, the head of Moscow's Interior Ministry, Vladimir Pronin, told the agency RIA Novosti that journalists should not be allowed to carry weapons. "Their safety should be guaranteed by law enforcement," he said. Pronin did not elaborate, however, on what exactly the police's plans are to fulfill those guarantees.

Thanks for the fast response, Nina.

Pronin's, '...should be guaranteed...' is not the same as will be guaranteed. And depending on where you add the emphasis can be interpreted in many ways.

And if the standards of policing in Russia match those in Uzbekistan as detailed in (ex-British Ambassador) Craig Murray's book (Murder in Samarkand) then I don't have much hope for the lives of Russian journalists. And if anything Uzbekistan seems worse now than it was a few years ago.

Nina, you're completely right when you read "the enemies of the free press in Russia... must be fought in a court of law, in trials open to the public and the press, by independent judges and fairly selected juries. And they must be defeated". But for Muratov's crew the barrel in the pocket is not an element of battle for free press but the matter of survival. I think that the verge of trust to authorities is far behind. Although even machine-gun will not save one who is not ready to kill :(

I was passing by the crime scene on the day when Markelov was killed.The body was not removed till 6.
We were walking by and we could not believe our eys. We already heard the news on the radio.
It was a nice winter day , an old and very nice looking part of Moscow and two young people were shot to death.... just that simple.

I was in a group of 3 people, who are not really interested in politics. One said:
"I wish I had a poster with the words"Putin , Look here!"
The other one who was the yougest said " She
( she meant Baburina) should have lied down and pretended that she were dead rather then trying to grab the murderer!"
We all remember one important detail that nobody from the office nearby looked out, the police still has no eyewitnesses, they can't even create a photo robot of the criminal...

I even do not believe that this murder was planned or authorized from some top.

It just can be ANYBODY today who can kill
because the state and system allows these things, though I must say that the polls showed that people have become really concerned about their own safety after that event.
I wonder how long we have to wait until the moment when they become concerned about safety of the others as well.

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