Orkhan Dzhemal, a freelance reporter, was killed with his two colleagues–documentary filmmaker Aleksandr Rastorguyev 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 51 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.
Dzhemal began his journalism career at the age of 22, covering medical issues before becoming a war correspondent and reporting from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Libya, Syria, eastern Ukraine and South Ossetia, the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain) reported.
He covered the wars in those countries for Russian news outlets including Izvestiya, Kommersant, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and Dozhd, according to the BBC. In 2008, he published a book about the five-day war between Georgia and Russia.
While explaining his desire to cover wars during an interview with the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian service, Dzhemal said: “I love war. You go and you touch history,” according to Agence France-Presse.
In a tribute video broadcast by Dozhd, journalist Mikhail Fishman said Dzhemal had a “particular lack of fear.”