International Day to End Impunity: Russia must adhere to its commitments

International Day to End Impunity: Russia must adhere to its commitments - Protection

On International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, ARTICLE 19 remembers Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, Timur Kuashev and Nikolai Potapov, just three of at least 31 journalists murdered in Russia with impunity since 1992.

We call on the Russian Federation to uphold the commitments it made at the UN Human Rights Council in September this year: to bring to justice perpetrators of violence against journalists and actively work to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

Katie Morris, Head of the Europe & Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19 said:

“In the increasingly repressive environment for freedom of expression in Russia, journalists are finding it ever harder to do their jobs. Draconian laws targeting civil society and internet users, harassment of independent journalists and media outlets and the dominance of state controlled media all contribute to worsening conditions for free speech and freedom of the media.

Courageous independent journalists are needed more than ever in Russia but they know they risk being attacked for their work and that perpetrators rarely face justice. Impunity for attacks on journalists, including harassment, threats, office break-ins and arbitrary arrests and – in the worst cases – murder, results in self-censorship, stopping journalists criticising governments, or investigating issues such as corruption and human rights violations.”

We are highlighting three recent cases where attacks on journalists have been left without justice, all from the North Caucasus region, where attacks on journalists have been particularly widespread.

Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev was a reporter for Caucasian Knot, and deputy editor of independent newspaper Novoye Delo, when he was shot and killed as he left for work in Makhachkala, Dagestan, in July 2013. Known for his coverage of human rights violations, corruption and persecution of religious minorities, Akhmednabiyev had received many other threats and had narrowly escaped a murder attempt just six months earlier.  Dagestani police wrongly logged the assassination attempt as property damage, and only reclassified it after the journalist’s death, demonstrating a shameful failure to investigate the motive behind the attack and prevent further attacks, despite a request from Akhmednabiyev for protection.

The investigation into Ahkmednabiyev’s murder was then closed within a year, without any arrests. It was only as a result of international pressure that the decision to close the investigation was rescinded on 16 September 2014, after which President Putin personally committed to draw the attention of Russia’s investigating bodies to the many cases of journalists killed in Dagestan without impunity. Nonetheless the case was closed again in 2015 on the basis that no perpetrator could be identified and the decision upheld in 2016, again demonstrating the lack of any serious intent to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Timur Kuashev, a correspondent for Dosh, a magazine covering the North Caucasus went missing from his home on 31 July 2014 and his body was discovered the following day in a suburb far from his home in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria. Kuashev was known for his investigations into abuses by the security forces in the course of anti-terror operations. He had received threats for years and written about them in an open letter he published in April 2013, just months before he was killed, saying he was concerned for his life. Despite this, the authorities again failed to provide adequate protection. His body was found 20 km from his home and official forensic experts found evidence of an injection. The reason for the injection is unexplained and his family suspect poisoning. Even so, after a year and a half, the investigators said that Kuashev, who had no reported serious medical problems, had died of heart failure. The case was closed in June 2016 for “lack of evidence of any crime”. Authorities failed to take the physical evidence properly into account and totally neglected to investigate the motive behind the attack.

Nikolai Potapov, a 66-year environmental activist and editor of Selsovet (Village Council) newspaper, was known in the Stavropol region for exposing alleged corruption by local authorities, especially for land deals involving the transfer of state property to criminal gangs. He was shot and killed outside his home in May 2013. Three men were charged and sentenced to 15 – 18 years for the killing. But the men did not know Potapov beforehand, had no personal motive and suggested he had upset someone in the local administration. After they were sentenced the case was closed and whoever had ordered the killing was not found. While the killers were punished, investigators demonstrated intentional negligence in finding the person who had paid for the killing and so leaving them free to do so again.

Russia’s obligations

On 29 September the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution with Russia as a co-sponsor on the Safety of Journalists (A/HRC/33/L.6). The resolution:

  • Strongly condemns the prevailing impunity for attacks and violence against journalists, and expresses grave concern that the vast majority of these crimes go unpunished, which in turn contributes to the recurrence of these crimes; and
  • Urges States to do their utmost to prevent violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability through the conduct of impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all alleged violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers falling within their jurisdiction, to bring perpetrators, including those who command, conspire to commit, aid and abet or cover up such crimes to justice, and to ensure that victims and their families have access to appropriate remedies.

“The gap between Russia’s rhetoric on impunity at the UN and the domestic reality is quite staggering”, said Katie Morris. “Over the past ten years, there have been nine unsolved murders of journalists in Russia, patently contradicting its international commitment to addressing impunity”, she added.

The Russian Federation’s expressed interest in fighting impunity in international fora must be implemented at home and all responsible authorities must do their utmost to bring perpetrators to justice, including those who order killings. Investigations into the deaths of Akhmednabiyev, Kuashev, Potapov and others should be reopened and resources made available to ensure people are held accountable and so help prevent similar incidents in the future.

As laid out in the resolution, Russia should also develop a strategy for combating impunity for attacks and violence against journalists and work to build a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.