Aleksandr Rastorguyev, a documentary director, was killed with his two colleagues–freelance reporter Orkhan Dzhemal and cameraperson Kirill Radchenko–on July 30, 2018, in an attack on their vehicle while driving about 30 kilometers north of the town of Sibut in the Central African Republic, according to a Reuters report citing local officials and Russian media reports. He was 47 years old.
A statement issued by the Moscow-based investigative media outlet The Investigations Management Centre (TsUR), which is financed by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said that the journalists were on assignment for TsUR investigating private Russian mercenaries, including a group known as Wagner that has been allegedly working in the Central African Republic. TsUR’s chief editor, Andrey Konyakhin, told CPJ the journalists left Moscow on July 27, and that the last communication with them was the evening of July 29.
Ange Maxime Kazagui, minister of communication and spokesperson for the CAR government, told CPJ that the journalists’ driver, who fled during the attack, told the government that the attackers spoke Arabic, rather than French or Sango, the other national language of CAR.
Dzhemal, Rastorguyev, and Radchenko landed in Bangui on July 28 on a flight from Morocco and made plans to meet a fixer known only as “Martin,” according to the Reuters report.
According to a private investigation launched by Khodorkovsky following the killings, which was in August reported on by the privately owned British Independent newspaper, information found by investigation financed by Khodorkovsky contradicted claims by the governments of Russian and CAR that the three journalists had been killed in a robbery.
Vladimir Monteiro, spokesperson and head of media relations for the U.N.’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), on August 2, 2018, told CPJ he had no knowledge of anyone named “Martin.”
Kazagui said that the journalists entered the country using tourist visas and had not registered for media accreditation.
Monteiro told CPJ that, contrary to frequent practice for press working in CAR, MINUSCA was not informed of the journalists’ activities.
The government of the Central African Republic is cooperating with the U.N. and the Russian government to investigate the deaths, Kazagui told CPJ. Khodorkovsky said in an August 1 Facebook post that he would not give up investigating who killed the three journalists until those responsible were identified.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told the state television station Rossiya 24 on August 1, 2018, that embassy diplomats had identified the bodies and were working with local authorities to investigate the killing. She added that the men traveled to CAR as tourists and the embassy was not aware of their presence in the country. The Russian Investigative Committee said in a July 31 statement that it has opened a criminal investigation into the killings.
Monteiro told CPJ that MINUSCA had increased patrols of the area where the bodies were found due to increased security concerns, but could not comment about any known armed groups operating in the area.
The bodies were transported to Moscow on August 5, according to a report in the state-owned daily Izvestiya. The state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported that the Investigative Committee would conduct a forensic examination of the bodies on August 6 and 7 before their burial the following day.
Rastorguyev was an award-winning documentary filmmaker from Rostov-on-Don, southwestern Russia, Agence France-Presse reported.
AFP said that Rastorguyev’s film “Tender’s Heat. Wild, Wild Beach,” co-directed with Vitaly Mansky and Susanna Baranzhiyeva, won a special jury award at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival in 2006. In a 2007 review, Variety called the film, which followed an eccentric group of characters on Black Sea beaches, "frequently grotesque but admirably unflinching,” according to AFP.
Mansky said in a tribute video produced by Dozhd that Rastorguyev was "maybe the most outstanding chronicler of the crazy, in some ways pointless and cruel life in Russia."
In a 2013 interview with The Village website, Rastorguyev said that "any art form tries to shed light on the real state of things, which is hidden from most people," according to AFP.
Rastorguyev also had a political streak and had previously ran afoul of the Russian authorities. He was detained during a 2011 protest against then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain) reported. Rastorguyev then became involved in a project called Srok, a series of short web films about the Russian protest movement and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, according to Dozhd.
At the time of his death he was making a film with Pyotr Verzilov of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot, according to AFP.