Monday, March 24, 2008

Silencing the Truth: Russian style

Slow but steady, journalists face systematic annihilation

“I survived! Now I am a Dissident! Don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I already wrote here that at one newspaper in the Dagestan, journalists struggle with the founders. Those, in the words of journalists wanted to use them as information killers. Potential killers strike. But that case too serious and strange to my mind... Founders gave the list of people who can not be printed in this newspaper, and even... communicate with them inside the walls of editorial offices. And here I am, there is at the forefront of! At the head of the list!The most ridiculous that the newspaper... notes about their travels, where I did not touch the political situation in Zimbabwe, and a current describe where I went... I do not write anything seditious. In politics, or even about... I do not, because I have laziness... Can founders know something about me that I do not know what I did? Maybe I need to “suitcase-station- Israel” (and) not become the second Khodorkovsky?”

The above quote is a roughly translated March 20, 2008 blog entry of Ilyas Shurpayev at on the website of Odnoklassniki, a Russian social networking site.

What makes the quote to be quoted here is that it’s the last quote from the Russian television journalist who was found dead in his flat in Moscow only hours after posting this blog entry in which he joked that he had become a dissident.

Something somewhere is not right in Russia and its getting more and more dangerous to report, as Shurpayev had reported from all the most dangerous parts of Russia, including Chechnya and his native Dagestan. Found strangled with a belt around his neck and multiple knife wounds, Shurpayev, 32, had recently moved to Moscow from Dagestan, a violence- ridden republic neighbouring Chechnya, the war-torn part of Russia.

Local media reports cited the concierge in his building saying that Shurpayev apparently knew his killers because he called down for two young men to be let in. As usual, the prosecutors told media a criminal investigation has been opened into the case and the possibility that the killing might be related to his work was not ruled out.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) issued a statement calling on the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the case, saying the journalist appeared to be a target of media repression. “We fear that this has all the hallmarks of a targeted attack on a journalist who was reporting from the frontlines of conflict on Russia’s borders,” the IFJ’s head Aidan White said in a statement in Brussels.

As the media was still coming to grips with this murder of a fellow journalist, the Interfax news agency citing the Russian state prosecutor Yuri Chaika reported that Gaji Abashilova, the head of the state radio and television in the same Dagestan region was shot dead in the capital Makhachkala. Abashilova, who was shot on the street in Makhachkala by assailants who fired from a car, according to the Interfax report, which added that Chaika would personally take over the investigation into the murder. Abashilov, 58, had also been deputy information minister in the Dagestani government in the past.

With dozens of journalists killed, some like Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, wellknown through their work against well-known figures, others not so well-known on international, or even national levels as they are reporting on local corruption and power-abuse, one fact gets reported crystalclear: that the Russian state is systematically failing to protect journalists with its failure to prosecute these crimes.

On one hand, Russian ex- KGB leaders are striving to bring back the glory of a superpower to Moscow, but on the other, with today’s Russia being allegedly labelled as the most dangerous place to work as a journalist, the modus operandi of their ambitious project is quite murky.

In a war-zone, journalists are aware of the dangers, while in Russia, death stalks in “safe” residential areas. Shurpayev, who was of Dagestani origin, survived the former in Caucasus to die in the latter arena of Moscow as his employer Channel One pointed out in its statement: “His CV includes all the hotspots in the Caucasus... And very often he would work in practically combat-like conditions.”

It’s not the murder of one journalist that kills free media but the failure of society to bring to book the culprits, emboldens the repressive forces to repeat the offence and slow but steady silence the voice of truth.

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