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CPJ calls for clear information on progress in solving Togliatti murders

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, December 8, 2010 - Authorities with Russia's Investigative Committee must show evidence that they are legitimately investigating the consecutive murders of two editors of the independent newspaper Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The Investigative Committee of Samara Region - which has jurisdiction over the cases of Valery Ivanov (killed in April 2002) and Aleksei Sidorov (killed in October 2003) - announced on November 18 that it had identified a circle of suspects in the murders.

"Not only Togliatti and Samara, but all of Russia as well as the international community anxiously expect to hear more about the long-overdue progress in investigating the murders of Valery Ivanov and Aleksei Sidorov," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Deep public skepticism about this investigation has led to the need for authorities to be transparent and to demonstrate progress. Without compromising the investigation, authorities should keep the public informed of its developments."

Ivanov and Sidorov started Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye in the mid-1990s, publishing critical exposes on crime and corruption. From the start, its bold editorial line earned the paper popularity among readers but also ardent enemies, who threatened staffers, vandalized the paper's offices, and, eventually, murdered Ivanov and Sidorov, CPJ research shows.

On April 29, 2002, as Ivanov, 32, was getting into a car outside his home at about 11 p.m., an assailant shot him in the head at point-blank range. Eyewitnesses saw the killer - a man in his mid-to-late 20s; he was never arrested. On the evening of October 9, 2003, several witnesses saw three assailants follow Sidorov, 31, stab him in the chest several times, then search him. Sidorov (who had replaced Ivanov as editor-in-chief 18 months before) had work-related documents on him, his colleagues told CPJ. He had been working on a story Ivanov never finished. The story accused Togliatti law enforcement officials of pocketing the assets of a late local gangster, CPJ said in its September 2009 special report Anatomy of Injustice.

Over the next three years, investigations into both murders were suspended and restarted several times, with no results. The latest reported development came in October 2004 when, under increased public scrutiny, a Togliatti court acquitted a wrongfully accused man of killing Sidorov.

In late September, after a meeting with CPJ, the Investigative Committee at the federal level announced that it would restart dormant or closed probes into five out of 19 journalist murders committed in Russia since 2000. Among those five are the murders of Ivanov and Sidorov. On November 18, Vitaly Gorstkin, a top official with the Investigative Committee of Samara Region, told local press that the agency had made new progress in the two journalist murders, as well as in the murders of two local government officials; he said evidence suggests that the four high-profile killings are linked and committed by the same people, the local press reported.

Later the same day, Gorstkin's associate Yelena Shkayeva announced that the agency had identified and was seeking a suspect in Ivanov's murder on an arrest warrant. In the next week, a few more details surfaced in the local press - it cited Gorstkin's office as saying it had identified a circle of five suspects in the murders, and one suspect was reported to be in custody. It is unclear whether this was the suspect being sought on a warrant.

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