From the July 7, 2009 edition of Forbes.com
July 7, 2009
by David Satter
Five years have passed since the murder of Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov, and journalists in Russia are, if anything, even more endangered in Russia than they were on the day he was killed.
The problem is that protecting journalists (and, with them, freedom of speech) is simply not a priority in Russia. In January, Anastasia Baburova, a freelance reporter with the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was shot dead in broad daylight on a crowded street in the center of Moscow along with Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer.
Markelov was the lawyer for Mikhail Beketov, the editor of Khimkinskaya Pravda, a newspaper in the Moscow satellite city of Khimki, who was nearly beaten to death Nov. 13, 2008, by unknown attackers. At the time of the attack, he was about to publish an article about the business activities of the family of the mayor of Khimki. Yet after the demonstrative murder of Markelov and Baburova, no Russian official attended the victims' funerals, and both Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin remained silent for nine days before Medvedev expressed perfunctory regrets in a meeting with Dmitri Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, and Mikhail Gorbachev, one of the newspaper's shareholders.
There may be attempts by the authorities to use the killing of journalists for their own purposes, for example, by hinting that they were carried out by the regime's political enemies. This is probably what was involved when Putin assured the Klebnikov family that the authorities knew who was responsible for Paul's death. But there is no serious attempt to bring the killers to justice. Most ominously, when underlings involved in the killing of journalists are charged in trials that go nowhere, they turn out to have a maze of connections to the security services themselves.
In the Klebnikov case, the Russians, under intense pressure from the American embassy, charged a group of Chechens with the crime and a closed trial took place in 2006 in a Moscow city court. According to the prosecutor, the organizer of the killing was Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev, the leader of a Chechen criminal group. He was the subject of a book by Klebnikov and supposedly did not like the way he was depicted.
Nukhaev disappeared before the murder and has not been seen since. Two Chechens, Musa Vakhayev and Kazbek Dukuzov, allegedly carried out the killing at Nukhaev's behest. However, Alexander Gordeev, the editor of Newsweek's Russian edition who was with Klebnikov at the time he was shot, said that as he lay dying, Klebnikov said his attacker was a Russian.
Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, which carried out an independent investigation of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the famous Russian investigative journalist who worked for the newspaper, said at the trial of three Chechen brothers accused of involvement in that killing that they were recruited by their uncle, Lomi-Ali Gaitukayev, a self-confessed agent of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Interestingly, Gaitukayev was also in contact, according to Sokolov, with Dukuzov. He and Vakhayev were acquitted of the murder of Klebnikov, but the Russian supreme court overturned the acquittal and a new trial was ordered. In the meantime, Dukuzov fled. The Klebnikov case is no longer being actively investigated.
Seventeen journalists have been assassinated in Russia since 2000. Not in one single case has the person who ordered the killing been found. The reason for this is that law enforcement in Russia is beholden to the very people in the business and political elite who find independent reporting most objectionable.
The tie between the organizations that investigate the killings of journalists and the groups that have an interest in carrying them out may explain a familiar pattern in the investigations. In many cases, the investigation proceeds normally until it shows signs of determining who may be responsible for the crime. At that point, law enforcement officers, typically acting in good faith, find that their efforts have been sabotaged by high-ranking officials and the investigation is ruined.
Such high-level sabotage was clearly evident in the Politkovskaya case. The prosecutor leaked information about the executors of the crime to the press, allowing the triggerman to flee; video footage showing the killer entering Politkovskaya's apartment building mysteriously disappeared; the FSB prevented investigators from seizing the office computer of a former FSB agent who was also charged in the crime. The abuses made an acquittal inevitable. (The acquittal has since been overturned by the Russian supreme court, but this does not necessarily mean there will be justice).
The result is that Russian journalists are seriously intimidated. Every journalist knows that investigating a sensitive story can get him killed, and as a result, much of the crime committed by high-ranking officials and businessmen in Russia goes unreported. The minority of journalists determined to pursue the truth wherever it leads have become accustomed to living in fear.
In the aftermath of Klebnikov's death, various theories popped up in Moscow about the motives for his murder. Few placed any credence in the notion that he was killed because of his negative depiction of a Chechen warlord in one of his books. But in the absence of a serious investigation, none of the other theories led anywhere.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the killings of journalists, theories about what happened have come to replace serious investigations of the crimes. The result is a never-never land in which the very idea of actually solving a crime seems strange. Unfortunately, since Paul Klebnikov's murder five years ago, the situation has become even worse. A Moscow police official, when asked about contract murders, summed up the situation this way: "They solve these crimes only in the movies."
David Satter, a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and a visting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), is the author of It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past (Yale). Age of Delirium, a documentary film about the fall of the Soviet Union based on his book of the same name, was recently released.
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