6 October 2010

Investigations reopened into journalists' murders thanks to CPJ

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Top authorities at the Kremlin have vowed to pursue 19 cases of unsolved, work-related murdered journalists following an appeal by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Last week officials at the Investigative Committee in Moscow, who are directly responsible for investigating the most serious crimes in Russia, met with a visiting delegation from CPJ and pledged to aggressively look into the murder cases, including at least five that had been previously closed or suspended.

"It's a matter of honour for us to solve these murders," Aleksandr Bastrykin, chair of the Investigative Committee, told CPJ. "It's a matter of proving our professionalism."

The cases include the 2003 death of "Novaya Gazeta" deputy editor Yuri Shchekochikhin, who died after a sudden illness although his colleagues suspect he was poisoned; and the 2005 killing of Puls-TV cameraman Pavel Makeev, which had previously been classified as a car accident.

According to news reports, Bastrykin told journalists last month that police were close to finding the suspected killer of human rights defender and journalist Natalya Estemirova, whose body was found by a roadside in Ingushetia a year ago. Authorities said they are trying to locate and arrest Chechen guerrilla fighter Alkhazur Bashayev.

The Investigative Committee was set up three years ago and was bolstered by President Dimitry Medvedev's recent decision to separate the committee from the Prosecutor General's Office and make it directly answerable to him.

But human rights activists are unconvinced that Russia is making great advances on its free expression record. Russia ranks eighth on CPJ's list of countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes, with 19 journalists murdered in the country since 2000.

"Investigators reported progress in a number of cases. Of course, we will not be satisfied until we see prosecutions and convictions," said CPJ.

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