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JOURNALISTS, RIGHTS DEFENDERS UNDER ATTACK

The Russian authorities should investigate the recent string of violent attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, IFEX members say.

The designer of a suburban Moscow newspaper died last week after being beaten near his home, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and news reports.

Sergei Protazanov, who was disabled and had a prosthetic arm, was found lying on the sidewalk by a passerby on 30 March and died the next day, said Anatoly Yurov, editor of the pro-opposition newspaper "Grazhdanskoye Soglasiye" (Civil Concord) who spoke to Protazanov the day that he died.

The state RIA Novosti agency cited police denying Protazanov had been beaten and saying he died from accidental poisoning.

Yurov told CPJ that at least three other staffers of "Grazhdanskoye Soglasiye" have been attacked in recent years. Protazanov had been designing an edition devoted to alleged election fraud, the editor said.

In a separate attack, prominent human rights defender Lev Ponomarev was seriously injured by unidentified attackers outside his apartment building on 31 March. He was returning from a meeting with a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Nine rights organisations, including IFEX members Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, called on U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders meeting with President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia at the G-20 gathering in London to ensure an end to the growing number of attacks on human rights activists in Russia.

"There's no doubt that Ponomarev was attacked because of his human rights work," said Holly Cartner of Human Rights Watch. "President Medvedev should make certain that Ponomarev's attackers are identified and prosecuted and that human rights defenders are safeguarded from such vicious assaults."

Ponomarev, director of Za Prava Cheloveka (For Human Rights), has covered a wide range of rights issues, including abuses in Russia's prison system, human rights violations in the North Caucasus, and the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

He and his organisation have repeatedly come under pressure: he's been prosecuted for organising protests, accused of libelling prison officials for exposing rights problems in jails, and warned he would be investigated for making "extremist" statements.

Prior to the March 31 assault, unknown authors modified the Wikipedia entry about Ponomarev to predict he would die from an attack, and unknown persons twice slashed the tires of his car.

The attacks follow the killings of the prominent human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and the "Novaya Gazeta" journalist Anastasiya Baburova on 19 January. Their killings remain unsolved.

"This brutal attack on Lev Ponomarev reflects the current state of impunity and lawlessness in Russia today," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. "Peaceful critics of the government are increasingly targeted in a political climate in which Russian authorities have abdicated their responsibilities for protecting these important voices."

Visit these links:
- Authorities must investigate sudden death of newspaper designer Sergei Protazanov, says CPJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102082/
- IFJ calls for independent probe over journalist's death in Russia: http://tinyurl.com/cfelsf
- Human rights advocate Lev Ponomarev seriously hurt (Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and others): http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102041/
(8 April 2009)

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