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Following mission to Russia, IPI warns impunity still gravest obstacle to press freedom

Russia human rights ombudsman pledges to raise impunity issue with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

by Colin Peters, Press Freedom Adviser for Europe and The Americas

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, Wednesday 14 October - Following a five-day IPI press freedom advocacy mission to Russia from 29 September - 4 October, IPI warned on Wednesday that the gravest press freedom concern in today's Russia remains the impunity enjoyed by those who assault and murder journalists.

IPI called for action on the part of Russia's federal government to ensure that both federal and local law enforcement agencies conduct transparent and conclusive investigations into such abhorrent acts of violence.

IPI also remains strongly concerned at the paucity of independence within the Russian broadcast media. Those outlets that are independent face pressure from federal authorities.

During its visit to Russia, the IPI delegation* visited Moscow and Tomsk, and held discussions with media representatives and government officials about the state of media freedom in the country.

In Moscow, the delegation talked to local media freedom advocates the 'Glasnost Defence Foundation' and the 'Centre for Journalists in Extreme Situations', as well as the Russian Union of Journalists, about the different problems journalists in Russia face.

The delegation also visited the editorial offices of the independent Russian tri-weekly Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper that has suffered the loss of four journalists and two associates to murder or death in suspicious circumstances over the past decade alone.

Vladimir Lukin, the Russian Human Rights Ombudsman, assured the IPI delegation that he would raise its concerns over the impunity enjoyed by the killers of journalists in Russia with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"It is absolutely vital for freedom of the media in Russia that this culture of impunity cease," said IPI Deputy Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. "We urge the Russian government to do all it can to ensure that those who murder and assault journalists are brought to justice."

In the Moscow suburb of Khimki, IPI met with Yevgeniya Chirikova, an environmental activist leading a campaign for justice for local journalist Mikhail Beketov, who was savagely beaten and left for dead by unknown assailants one year ago.

Beketov and Chirikova had worked together to uncover alleged corruption in the sale of protected land for use in the building of a Moscow-St. Petersburg motorway.

Police have made no progress in finding the attackers in the November 2008 assault, which has left Beketov hospitalized, without the use of his hands and one leg, and unable to talk.

IPI also visited the Western Siberian city of Tomsk, to investigate the press freedom issues unique to one of Russia's many regions.

While in Tomsk, the delegates visited local government officials and local state-owned and private media, and heard allegations of political pressure on a local and national level.

IPI will publish a full report on the mission at the beginning of November 2009.

*IPI's delegation comprised Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza Editor-in-chief Adam Michnik, Russian investigative monthly Sovershenno Secretno Editor-in-chief Galina Sidorova, IPI Deputy Director Alison Bethel McKenzie, and IPI press freedom adviser Colin Peters.

Adam Michnik was unable to accompany the delegation to Tomsk.

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