Obama should address Russian impunity in upcoming summit, says CPJ



(CPJ/IFEX) – In a letter to Barack Obama, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) asked the President to urge Russia’s government to demonstrate its commitment to reversing the troubling record of impunity in attacks on the press:

June 25, 2009

Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Via facsimile: +1 202.456.2461

Dear President Obama,

In advance of your July 6-8 summit in Moscow with President Dmitry Medvedev, we’d like to draw your attention to the pressing issue of impunity in violent crimes against journalists in Russia. We ask you to place this issue on the agenda for your talks. Seventeen journalists have been murdered for their work or have died under suspicious circumstances since 2000. In only one case have the killers been convicted. In every case, the masterminds remain unpunished.

Your meeting comes on the fifth anniversary of the murder of Paul Klebnikov, the founding editor of Forbes Russia and a U.S. journalist of Russian descent. He was gunned down outside his Moscow office on the night of July 9, 2004. Although this case has received a high level of public attention, justice has been elusive.

The investigation was promising in its initial stages: Authorities determined the killing was work-related, they arrested suspects, and they brought a case to trial. The case unraveled in court amid questionable judicial decisions. The judge closed the proceedings to the public for vaguely expressed national security reasons and then left the jury vulnerable to intimidation. The defendants – Kazbek Dukuzov, charged as the gunman, and Musa Vakhayev, charged as the getaway driver – were acquitted in May 2006.

In November 2006, Russia’s Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s verdict and ordered a retrial of the two men. By then, however, Dukuzov had vanished. In the following months, Moscow City Court officials first postponed the retrial and then sent the case back to the Prosecutor General’s Office for further investigation. Officials did not disclose the rationale for this pivotal decision, which effectively sent the case back to step one. Investigators have reported no recent developments.

Neither have authorities reported progress in apprehending the alleged mastermind, Chechen separatist leader Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev. Prosecutors have said Nukhayev ordered Klebnikov’s slaying because he was angered by the editor’s 2003 Russian-language book, Conversation With a Barbarian, which drew on interviews with the rebel leader. Authorities have offered no evidence to substantiate this claim.

Investigations into the 16 other journalist killings have been marred by secrecy, conflicts of interest, and undue influence from external political forces, CPJ research has found.

These victims represent the breadth of Russian journalism: They worked in large cities and small towns across Russia. They were veterans of international reputation and young reporters trying to examine injustices in their local communities. All shared one thing: They examined sensitive subjects that threatened powerful people in government, business, law enforcement, and criminal groups.

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have pledged to enforce the rule of law by investigating crimes against the press.
Nonetheless, attacks on journalists continue to occur with impunity. In the past year alone, CPJ has documented work-related violence against 19 journalists in various parts of the country.

This record of impunity is a matter of international importance. Deadly violence against journalists has led to vast self-censorship, leaving issues of global significance underreported or entirely uncovered. A closed society is not a full and reliable international partner in our information-driven world. Russia is an influential member in a number of international organizations, including those predicated on the right to life and free expression. When Russia does not uphold press freedom and human rights for its own people, it undermines them for all.

When you meet with President Medvedev in July, we ask that you remind him of the commitment he made upon taking office on May 7, 2008 – to ensure that the lives and safety of all citizens are protected, to fight corruption, and to strengthen the rule of law. We ask you to engage President Medvedev in a dialogue and urge that his government demonstrate its commitment to reversing this very troubling record of impunity in attacks on the press.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters.


Joel Simon
Executive Director


For more information:
Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Ave., 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001
info (@) cpj.org
Phone: +1 212 465 1004
Fax: +1 212 465 9568