Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an independent international inquiry into last July’s murder of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic following the publication of a well-documented report by a centre for investigative journalism indicating that a CAR police officer and Russian military advisers were involved.
The three journalists – Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko – went to the CAR to make a documentary about the activities of mercenaries working for Wagner, a private Russian security linked to the Kremlin. The CAR and Russian authorities insist that their triple murder on 29 July was simply the result of an armed robbery that went wrong.
This is not so, according to the report published by Dossier, a centre for investigative journalism funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Russian oil industry magnate and Kremlin opponent now living in exile, who had hired the three murdered journalists to go to the CAR and make the documentary.
On the basis of phone records and interviews, the Dossier investigation has established that a CAR police officer linked to Russian military advisers was in constant contact with the journalists’ driver and followed all their movements.
The phone records also show that he was in constant contact with Alexander Sotov, a Russian military adviser who was himself in frequent contact with Valery Zakharov, the CAR president's national security adviser. According to other investigative media reports, both Soto and Zakharov work for Wagner.
The Dossier investigation also established that the mobile phones used by the driver and by the journalists’ fixer, known only as “Martin,” were registered in false names and with false passports in the days and weeks prior to the Russian journalists’ arrival in the CAR.
“The CAR’s investigators and their Russian counterparts have failed to shed light on this triple murder in the nearly six months since it took place,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The facts revealed by these phone records and many other documents deserve closer examination. At this point, only an independent international inquiry would be able to establish how these three journalists came to be murdered.”
The Russian authorities have issued a statement saying they will continue to work on the theory of an armed robbery that was facilitated by the negligence of the journalists' employer, meaning Khodorkovsky. Without addressing the facts revealed in the report, they accuse Khodorkovsky of simply trying to exonerate himself.
The Central African Republic is ranked 112th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index while Russia is ranked 148th.