Unidentified attackers shot and killed Russian documentary filmmaker Aleksandr Rastorguyev and two colleagues – freelance reporter Orkhan Dzhemal and camera operator Kirill Radchenko – on July 30, 2018, while they were driving about 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) north of the town of Sibut in the Central African Republic. Rastorguyev was 47 years old.
A statement issued by the now-defunct Moscow-based investigative media outlet The Investigations Management Centre (TsUR), financed by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said at the time that the journalists were on assignment for TsUR to investigate actions in the country by the private Russian mercenary group Wagner.
On August 3, 2018, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the journalists were attacked while attempting to resist a robbery.
However, an investigation launched by Khodorkovsky following the killings, which was reported on by the privately owned British Independent newspaper, found that “expensive items” had been left in the journalists’ car following the attack, saying the incident was not “consistent with a robbery.”
In July 2023, Aleksandr Bikantov, the Russian ambassador to the CAR, told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that CAR authorities were continuing their investigation but Russian authorities had not “received any information indicating a breakthrough or even progress in the investigation.”
A representative of The Dossier Center, an investigative nonprofit project founded by Khodorkovsky, told CPJ in July 2023 that Dzhemal, Rastorguyev, and Radhcneko “were targeted from the start” of their trip by employees of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. That representative communicated with CPJ on the condition of anonymity for safety concerns.
On the first anniversary of the killings, The Dossier Center released a report claiming that autopsies showed the killings “were deliberate and professionally executed” and “cannot be explained by a simple wish to take possession of the victims’ property.”
That report also said that Dzhemal, Rastorguyev, and Radchenko were under “thoroughly planned and organized” surveillance by CAR law enforcement agencies before they were killed.
On the day of the attack, a vehicle carrying three armed white men and two Central African residents, including CAR gendarme Emmanuel Touaguende Kotofio, passed through a checkpoint about 20 minutes ahead of the journalists’ jeep, according to a January 2019 article by the independent Russian broadcaster Dozhd TV, citing research by The Dossier Center.
The Dossier Center’s report stated that Kotofio was repeatedly in contact with Bienvenue Duvokama, the journalists’ driver and a former gendarme. According to multiple news reports, Kotofio was also in regular contact with alleged Wagner member Aleksandr Sotov, who in turn communicated with Valery Zakharov, reportedly head of a Wagner team in the country and an adviser to CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
The Dossier Center’s report said that Russian authorities had not questioned Sotov or Zakharov about their alleged connection to the killings. The center’s representative who communicated with CPJ said that Duvokama had been abducted in Cameroon in 2021 and subsequently “vanished without leaving any trace.” CPJ was unable to find contact information for Duvokama, Sotov, or Zakharov.
CAR Communications Minister Ange Maxime Kazagui told CPJ in 2018 that the journalists’ driver said the attackers spoke Arabic, rather than the commonly spoken local languages of French or Sango.
Nadezhda Kevorkova, a journalist and a friend of Dzhemal’s, told CPJ in May 2023 that the journalists’ computers, cameras, phones, and hard drives containing footage remained in the hands of the Russian Investigative Committee and had not been returned to the families.
The journalists’ belongings, including their “clothes with traces of wounds” were burned after their deaths, according to Kevorkova and news reports.
Kevorkova also told the Daily Beast that Dzhemal’s phone had been hacked weeks before the attack while he was in Russia, and she believed he was under surveillance before and during the trip.
Dzhemal, Rastorguyev, and Radchenko had coordinated their reporting in the CAR through a fixer known as “Martin,” identified as a Dutch national and U.N. employee whose contact information was provided to the journalists by Kirill Romanovsky, a correspondent with the Russian Information Agency Federal News Agency (RIA FAN), according to Reuters, The Dossier Center, and other news reports.
RIA FAN is part of a media organization whose board of trustees is headed by Prigozhin.
Vladimir Monteiro, spokesperson and head of media relations for the U.N.’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic told CPJ at the time that he had no knowledge of anyone named "Martin."
Romanovsky never revealed Martin’s surname and died in January 2023, Kevorkova told CPJ, saying, “He took this mystery with him — who he informed about the planned trip to CAR and who ‘Martin’ was.”
Rastorguyev was an award-winning documentary filmmaker from Rostov-on-Don, southwestern Russia, Agence France-Presse reported.
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.