A while ago, on February 28th, I attended Kennan Institute event, Killed Without Consequence: Why the Murder of Russian Journalists Matters Beyond Russia, with Nina Ognianova, Program Coordinator, Europe and Central Asia, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The talk was based on a September 2009 CPJ report, Anatomy of Injustice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in Russia.
In the report, CPJ focuses on the deaths of 17 journalists that were killed in 2000-2009. Here they are:
After the report was finished, two more journalists were killed, including Natalia Estemirova in July 2009.
In November 2010, Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin was severely beaten has has since recovered.
Ms. Ognianova noted that President Medvedev’s promises to fight “legal nihilism” in Russia have so far gone unfulfilled. Out of 19 murders of journalists that occurred in Russia since 2009, only one case has seen a conviction. Such low success rate suggests a pattern of impunity regarding violence toward the press in Russia, especially since 4 out of 5 general murder cases are solved, according to official statistics. With its 18 unsolved murders, Russia in 2010 ranked 8th in the CPJ’s Impunity Index, after such “leaders” as Iraq, Somalia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Afghanistan and Nepal. Oftentimes, evidence in murder cases of journalists is shielded from the victims’ families, which is a violation of the Russian law. Since media climate is dictated by the Kremlin, independent outlets are pressed to narrow their activities. Specifically, Estemirova’s murder has had a chilling effect on media freedom, with several international human rights organizations pulling their employees out of Chechnya to ensure their safety. Interestingly, 5 out of those 19 murdered journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, had worked for Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
I was surprised to hear that after CPJ was able to communicate with Russian courts after publishing its 2009 report, and in 2010 CPJ even managed to get Russia to reopen investigation into five of those 19 murders. However, I wouldn’t be too optimistic, because this does not mean any progress will be made; it only means that those cases have been switched from dormant phase to a technically “active” phase.
Ms. Ognianova suggested that the U.S. and Europe should use the leverage they have on Russia, possibly threatening sanctions, to get Russia to investigate the murders that already happened, and more generally, to ensure a freer media atmosphere in Russia. While this sounds promising, I don’t think this is realistic politically. No country leader, much less Obama, who is under constant pressure from two opposite political sides, will seriously consider, say, not ratifying some trade or nuclear agreement unless Russia takes media freedom seriously. So “condemning” attacks on and murders of journalists is probably the toughest measure in the U.S.’s arsenal.