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TWO DAGESTANI JOURNALISTS KILLED IN SEPARATE ATTACKS

Two journalists who covered the volatile North Caucasus were brutally murdered in Russia, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), along with other IFEX members and news reports.

Ilyas Shurpayev, a correspondent for Russia's state-run Channel One, was found stabbed and strangled with a belt in his Moscow apartment on 21 March.

Later the same day, gunmen fired on a car carrying Gadzhi Abashilov, the head of Dagestan's state-controlled television channel, in a drive-by shooting in Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala.

"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," says CPJ. "We urge President-elect Dmitry Medvedev to confront this legacy and ensure that those responsible for these two killings are brought to justice."

Firefighters found the body of Shurpayev, a Dagestan-born reporter who covered conflicts in the Northern Caucasus for Channel One, in his Moscow home after a neighbour reported a fire in the apartment he rented. According to CPJ, investigators say the perpetrators had set fire to the apartment to conceal the crime.

It appears that Shurpayev might have known his assailants. The reporter had called down to his building's concierge at 2 am to ask that two young men, apparently of North Caucasus origin, be let into the building shortly before he was killed, say news reports. CPJ says the authorities have ruled out robbery since Shurpayev's valuables were not taken.

Hours before his death, Shurpayev posted an entry in his blog about the owners of a newspaper in Dagestan banning a column he had written and instructing the staff to not mention his name in publications. "Now I am a dissident!" was the title of the last entry.

But Oleg Panfilov, head of CJES and a friend of Shurpayev's, thought it unlikely that his death was related to his work. Shurpayev, who previously worked for the state-controlled NTV channel and moved to Moscow in February to work for Channel One, was "never involved in any kind of aggressive journalism," says Panfilov.

In an unrelated case, Gadzhi Abashilov was shot dead in his car as he travelled home from work in Makhachkala. His driver was hospitalised in critical condition.

According to Russian news reports, Abashilov, "an uncompromising fighter against extremism and terrorism," was included in lists on separatist websites of people to be shot.

Before becoming head of Dagestan's state television and radio broadcasting company GTRK, he hosted his own TV programme, edited a local newspaper and served as deputy information minister in the republic. Dagestan, which lies between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, has been plagued by clan struggle and criminal violence. Abashilov's predecessor, Tagib Abdusamadov, survived a murder attempt in 2004.

Russian officials have opened criminal cases into the murders and were considering the possibility that both killings were connected to the men's work.

Since 2000, more than a dozen journalists have been slain in contract-style killings in Russia, many appearing to have been targeted because of their attempts to expose allegations of corruption. Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in 2006 after writing about Russian atrocities in Chechyna. As in many of the other cases, the killers have not been found. CPJ has recently launched an impunity campaign that targets Russia.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2gnvng
- CPJ impunity campaign: http://www.cpj.org/impunity/index.html
- CJES: http://www.cjes.ru/lenta/?lang=eng
- International Federation of Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/342khy
- Reporters Without Borders: http://tinyurl.com/37rkou
- Panfilov in "Moscow Times": http://tinyurl.com/3y34qa
(Photo: Ilyas Shurpayev (left) and Gadzhi Abashilov, courtesy of Russia Today)

(25 March 2008)

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