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Television presenter gunned down in Russia

(IPI/IFEX) - 6 December 2012 - Russian authorities said today that a journalist gunned down last night in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria may have been killed due to his work.

The Investigative Committee of Russia suggested the link in a statement announcing that the Committee will head the investigation into the slaying of All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) TV channel presenter Kazbek Gekkiyev, 28, who was shot in the head at approximately 9 p.m. last night in Nalchik as he headed home from the channel's studio following a broadcast.

In a statement issued later in the day, the Committee said that investigators found three 9 mm shell casings near Gekkiyev's body and it referred to reports that the killers asked Gekkiyev whether he was a news presenter before opening fire.

The Committee also said that it regarded the murder as a warning to other journalists covering "the progress of the fight against the gangster underground". Gekkiyev's colleagues, however, told local media that there seemed to be no reason to kill him, as he only presented the news in broadcasts and did not prepare crime reports himself.

Local reports indicated that the station's management previously took two other reporters off the air following death threats by extremists, but there was no evidence available today linking those threats to Gekkiyev's killing.

International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "We had been pleased over the course of this year that there were no deaths of Russian journalists to report, and our thoughts go out to Mr. Gekkiyev's family, friends and colleagues. We hope that the government takes this brutal crime seriously and we urge authorities to conduct a full, swift and transparent investigation and to bring the culprits to justice."

Gekkiyev's murder was one of two attempted assassinations in Nalchik last night. Russian media reported that a regional deputy transportation minister, Vladislav Dyachenko, was injured in a car-bomb attack, but survived. It was unclear whether the incidents were connected.

According to IPI's Death Watch, 59 journalists have now been killed or have died in connection with their work in Russia since IPI began systematically keeping count of journalists' fatalities since 1997.

Gekkiyev is the first journalist to be killed in Russia since journalist and human rights activist Hadzhimurad Kamalov was shot 14 times on 15 December 2011 in the republic of Dagestan, the same day journalists across the country gave tribute to colleagues who perished over the previous 20 years due to their work. Investigators reportedly linked Kamalov's murder to his work, but the case, like nearly all murders of journalists in Russia, remains unsolved.

In May, Radio Mayak journalist Sergei Aslanyan survived an attack in which an unknown assailant lured him from his Moscow apartment building with a telephone call and hit him in the head with a heavy object before stabbing him 20 times in the chest, neck and arm. That attack also appears to remains unsolved.

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