Russia: Journalists Killed

Friday, May 17, 1996

On 17 May 1996, the CCPJ expressed concern to Russian President Boris Yeltsin over the number of recent murders of journalists in Russia, many of which occurred in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

17 May 1996

Your Excellency,

I would like to draw your attention to several cases that are of extreme concern to the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent organization that monitors attacks on press freedom worldwide. We are saddened by the number of recent murders of journalists in Russia, too many of which have occurred in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

According to our information, six journalists have been murdered in Russia in 1996 alone, with half of them killed in Chechnya. Most recently, Viktor Mikhailov, a crime reporter for the Siberian daily Zabaikalsky Rabochy, was reportedly killed by unknown assailants in broad daylight in Chita on 12 May. Mikhailov had reportedly been covering crime reports and the work of law enforcement agencies at the time of his death.

On 9 May, Nina Yefimova, a 25-year-old Russian correspondent residing in Chechnya, was found dead from a shot to the back of the head. Her 73-year-old mother was also killed, after they were both abducted from their apartment on the outskirts of Grozny. Journalists in Grozny and Moscow believe that her murder was related to stories she had published on crime in Chechnya.

Yefimova, a contributor to the newspaper Vozrozhdeniye (Revival), a Russian-language newspaper distributed in Chechnya, is the second journalist to be assassinated in Chechnya in recent weeks. On 11 April, Obshchaya Gazeta correspondent Nadezhda Chaikova was found dead in Geikhi after she had disappeared while on assignment. Chaikova, who was well-known for her critical coverage of the war in Chechnya, had been severely beaten and was also shot in the back of the head. The Committee to Protect Journalists has verified that at least nine journalists have been killed while covering the Chechen war since Russian federal troops stormed Grozny in December 1994. Five were killed in crossfire, and four by assassination. In addition, four other journalists are missing and presumed dead.

We are deeply concerned over the murder of Nina Yefimova and her mother, and urge authorities to immediately launch an investigation. It is disturbing that the slayings of other journalists in Chechnya are not being adequately investigated and we urge you to investigate more thoroughly.

Meanwhile, the trial of the soldier who killed journalist Natalia Aliakina of the German weekly Focus and the radio news agency Rufo opened before a military court in Lermontov on 15 May almost one year after her death. Aliakina was leaving a military roadblock manned by interior ministry troops in Budennovsk, southern Russia, on 17 June 1995 when she was fatally injured by machine-gun fire. From the beginning, the Russian armed forces have claimed her death was an accident, maintaining that the soldier fired "by mistake." However, Natalia Aliakina's friends have shown, firstly, that the investigation of the case was conducted shoddily and, secondly, that it would have been technically impossible for the soldier to fire accidentally the way the military authorities described it.

We urge you to launch an exhaustive investigation immediately into the killing of these journalists and that those responsible be brought to justice. We further ask that the progress of the investigation be made public. Finally, we are deeply concerned over the growing count of journalists killed in the line of duty in Russia and we fear that the failure of authorities to investigate the crimes thoroughly is contributing to the continued violence against journalists in Russia.

Yours Sincerely,

Wayne Sharpe
Executive Director