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Two journalists covering volatile North Caucasus murdered, motives uncertain

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 21 March 2008 CPJ press release:

RUSSIA: Two television journalists covering the North Caucasus murdered

New York, March 21, 2008 - Two journalists who covered the volatile North Caucasus have been murdered in Russia in the last 24 hours, the first such killings in nearly a year. While the motives are still unclear, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls for a vigorous and transparent investigation into each.

Firefighters found the body of Ilyas Shurpayev, a correspondent for Russian state television's Channel One, in his Moscow apartment early this morning. He had been strangled and stabbed. The perpetrators had apparently set fire to the apartment to cover their tracks, the station reported.

Authorities with the Investigative Committee, an arm of Russia's Prosecutor General's Office, opened a criminal case into Shurpayev's murder. Authorities have ruled out robbery since Shurpayev's valuables, including his laptop, were not taken, local press reported. CPJ called Channel One's newsroom in Moscow but a representative declined to comment on the case over the phone. Investigators are looking into Shurpayev's journalism as well as possible private matters as a motive, Channel One reported.

"The presidency of Vladimir Putin has been marred by an appalling record of ineffectiveness in bringing to justice the killers of more than a dozen journalists murdered during his administration," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "We urge President-elect Dmitry Medvedev to confront this legacy and ensure that those responsible for these two killings are brought to justice."

According to local press reports, Shurpayev, 32, had moved to Moscow in February from his native Dagestan in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region, where he worked as a local correspondent for Channel One. Prior to joining Channel One, Shurpayev worked for the state-controlled NTV channel. He reported from the North Caucasus for both television companies.

Hours before his death, Shurpayev wrote in his personal blog that the owners of a newspaper in Dagestan - he did not identify which paper - had banned a column he had written and instructed the staff to not mention his name in publications. "Now I am a dissident!" was the blog entry's title. According to his blog, Shurpayev was shocked by the ban because the column was not political.

According to the independent news Web site Lenta, Shurpayev called his building's concierge around 2 a.m., asking for the admittance of two male visitors. Shortly after, Shurpayev's neighbors called firefighters about smoke coming from the apartment. His body was discovered with stab wounds and a belt around his neck.

In a separate case, Gadzhi Abashilov, head of the state radio and television company in Dagestan, was shot dead today at around 8 p.m. local time, in Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala. Abashilov, 58, was shot and killed in his car by at least one gunman who fled the scene immediately after, according to news agency RIA Novosti. Abashilov's driver was injured but survived. An Itar-Tass report said the shooting took place close to a local grocery store and involved an AK-47. Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has reportedly assumed personal control of the investigation, signifying that the case has been given priority.

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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