Of Russian forests, threats and stifled journalists
13 Jun 20120 comments
In an open letter , Dmitriy Muratov, the Editor-in-Chief of the Russian, Novaya Gazeta (the paper where for example Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova worked) has called today for the safety of his deputy editor and his colleagues to be ensured.
The letter explains that on 4 June his deputy editor, Sergei Sokolov accepted an invitation by the Head of the Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin to fly with him to Nalchik, Dagestan – there Sokolov publicly apologised for an overly emotional description in an article about a murder investigation. He followed this up with questions (probably uncomfortable) about the investigation and as a result he was briskly ordered to leave the meeting (the apology was not accepted).
If in itself such a meeting sounds odd – flying to Chechnya to publicly apologise, this in fact was not the end of the story. Upon returning to Moscow Sokolov was placed in the car of Bastrykin’s security guards and driven to a forest near Moscow, where the security guards were ordered to leave, while Sokolov and Bastrykin were left alone. Bastrykin reportedly expressed his anger about Novaya Gazeta, its editorial policy and Anna Politkovskaya. He allegedly threatened Sokolov with murder and reportedly, in jest added that he himself would then head the investigation.
Muratov is rightly concerned about his co-workers at Novaya Gazeta, which, as he states in his letter, has buried several colleagues. His public call for Bastrykin to ensure the safety and security of Sergei Sokolov and his colleagues as well as the request for Bastrykin to inform his colleagues in the North Caucasus that the hunting season on Novaya Gazeta employees is not to be opened, and is a sign that the pressure on independent journalists is at its peak. His last sentence, indicating that there is unfinished business between Novaya Gazeta and the Investigative Committee is equally telling, as he gives the example of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, which still remains unresolved.
Ironically, expressing his concern about the grim situation for journalists in Russia, Sokolov, in an interview with ARTICLE 19 back in 2011, said that, "We must learn to defend journalists before something happens to them. Any threat, any attack, any detention should cause an immediate uproar that continues all the way to the trial, where guilty parties get their 'just desserts'. Then maybe, we'll be less frequently meeting at the funerals of our colleagues and printing their obituaries." It is no surprise that his words foreshadowed the future of free press in Russia.