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CPJ urges full disclosure as authorities rule out foul play in journalist's death

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 6 July 2007 CPJ press release:

RUSSIA: Prosecutors say no foul play in Ivan Safronov's death

New York, July 6, 2007 - The independent business daily Kommersant reported that Moscow prosecutors have ruled out foul play in the March death of its reporter, Ivan Safronov. Prosecutors have not found any link between the military correspondent's recent work and his fall from a window in his apartment building, the newspaper said.

Investigators continue to work on other possible motives, including the journalist's private life, Kommersant said. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Russian authorities today to thoroughly consider the professional motive in Safronov's death and to disclose their reasons for ruling out foul play in the case.

"We found no criminal activity in this case. The possibility of foul play was fully investigated in the course of the probe," Kommersant quoted a representative from the Moscow prosecutor's office as saying on June 29. "There is no evidence that proves it." The representative, whom Kommersant did not name, did not explain how the decision was made, and did not specify the other motives that investigators were considering.

"We are troubled that Russian prosecutors have excluded the possibility that Ivan Safronov was murdered without explaining the rationale behind that decision," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "We call on authorities to present the results of their investigation that led them to ruling out foul play and to thoroughly consider Safronov's journalism as a motive in his death."

Just days before falling from an upper-floor window in his Moscow apartment building, Safronov had uncovered sensitive information about alleged international arms sales, colleagues said. Moscow prosecutors initially said the death was a suicide but later opened a criminal investigation into what they called "incitement to suicide," an article of the Russian penal code that is defined as provoking a suicide through threats or abusive treatment.

Safronov, 51, a former Russian Space Force colonel and a respected military correspondent who covered defense, army, and space issues for the independent business daily Kommersant, fell more than four stories from a staircase window in his apartment building on March 2.

He had just returned from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where he had covered the annual International Defense Exhibition and Conference, a gathering of defense manufacturers. While in Abu Dhabi, he had obtained information about a purported Russian sale of fighter jets and anti-aircraft missiles to Syria and Iran, a story he planned to finish when he returned.

Safronov had covered many other sensitive stories, however, and had been interrogated many times by the FSB. In December 2006, Safronov angered authorities when he wrote about the third consecutive launch failure of the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile.

Russia is the third deadliest country for journalists, according to CPJ research. A total of 47 journalists have been killed in Russia for their work since 1992. Of those, 27 were murdered, 12 were killed in crossfire, and eight died while covering dangerous assignments.

CPJ keeps a separate list of Russian journalists who have fallen victim to contract-style murders since 2000. The list includes 13 cases in which the evidence shows the killing was carried out by an assassin at the behest of one or more masterminds.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org

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