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Journalists call for new investigation into 1998 murder of newspaper editor

(GDF/IFEX) - Larissa Yudina, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya" (SKS), was killed in Elista, capital of the Republic of Kalmykia, on 7 June 1998.

For several years prior to the murder, attempts were made to close down Kalmykia's sole independent newspaper. Yudina had been unlawfully dismissed and steps had been taken to get the staff out into the street. SKS had been denied printing and distribution services and the newspaper's offices were raided. The editor had received threats and the door of her apartment had been set on fire.

And yet, Yudina and her colleagues had remained in opposition to the authorities. SKS never stopped publishing reports on violations of the law during presidential elections in the republic. The newspaper called attention to the illegitimacy of the Ilyumzhinov regime and highlighted financial machinations and corrupt practices. Its independent investigations made life difficult for people at the helm of power in the post-Soviet "khanate".

Presumably, the newspaper's critical stance led to Yudina's murder.

The editor's killers were tracked down and convicted. On 10 September 2000, President Vladimir Putin posthumously conferred the Order of Virtue on Yudina "for courage and self-denial in fulfilling her professional duty". However, those behind her murder were never named or put on trial.

Various teams of journalists went to Elista between the summer of 1998 and the autumn of 1999 to ensure that SKS would be released regularly, showing a rare example of journalistic solidarity. "We wanted to prove that 'Sovetskaya Kalmykia Sedonya' would survive and keep insisting on the comprehensive investigation of the circumstances of its editor's death," incumbent SKS editor Sergey Sokolov said.

On 6 June 2008, the city of Elista played host to a meeting of those who had helped Yudina defend her newspaper's independence. The sad anniversary was marked by public hearings under the banner of "A Killed Newspaper: Ways of Surviving".

Both the hearings and a visit to the cemetery where Yudina was buried proceeded under the vigilant control of "plain-clothed observers", yet more evidence of the restrictions to freedom of expression in the republic.
The participants decided to appeal to the Elista mayor to have one of the streets in the city named after Yudina. They also urged the president to order a new investigation into Yudina's murder so that those behind the murder can finally be identified and prosecuted.

Given President Dmitry Medvedev's recent call for in depth investigations of all crimes against journalists, "regardless of when they were committed," there is hope that the journalists' appeal will be heard this time, both by the prosecutor's office and the Investigations Committee.

"Larissa Yudina is alive for each of us attending these hearings," GDF president Alexei Simonov said during his speech in Elista. "The story of her killing is still a painful thorn in our hearts, and we do not intend to forget anything."

Updates the Yudina case:

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