Reporters Without Borders is dismayed to learn that Khadzhimurad Kamalov, the founder of the independent weekly Chernovik and head of Svoboda Slova (Free Speech), the company that publishes the newspaper, was gunned down outside its headquarters in Makhachkala, the capital of the southern Republic of Dagestan, shortly before midnight last night.
“The Russian media have just lost a leading independent journalist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Kamalov was respected for his investigative reporting and his refusal to compromise. He tackled sensitive subjects head-on with a great deal of courage. We share the pain of this loss with his colleagues and family.
“We note the rapid response from the police to his murder and we urge them to conduct a swift, complete and impartial investigation, assigning appropriate importance to the hypothesis that it was linked to his work as a journalist. The impunity with which journalists are murdered in Dagestan and the rest of Russia is intolerable. Kamalov’s murder will have a major intimidatory effect on all of Dagestan’s journalists."
Kamalov was gunned down outside Chernovik at around 11:30 pm. Witnesses said he had just accompanied a friend to the door when he came under fire from at least one masked gunman, who fired around 14 times before making off in a black Lada car. Kamalov died in the ambulance that was rushing him to hospital.
The police were quick to start an investigation, treating it as a violation of articles 105 and 122 of the criminal code (“homicide” and “illegal carriage of firearms”). The Dagestan Investigative Committee said the authorities were working on the assumption that it was linked to the victim’s journalistic work. A demonstration was due to held today in Makhachkala to pay tribute to Kamalov.
Kamalov was known for his investigative coverage of the most sensitive subjects in this troubled part of the Russian Caucasus, including corruption, enforced disappearances and abuses against civilians by police and soldiers. Chernovik’s articles often criticize the authorities and have resulted in a series of lawsuits and prosecutions.
As the newspaper tends to accuse elements within the security forces of helping to destabilize the republic, prosecutors have accused it of supporting Dagestan’s rebel groups.
Several members of its staff have been the targets of hate and smear campaigns. In 2009, Kamalov was on an anonymously circulated list of journalists, human rights activists and well-known figures who were to be killed to “avenge the death of policemen” because they were “accomplices of the rebels.”
Chernovik editor Biyakay Magomedov told Reporters Without Borders: “Kamalov had not been the target of any particular threats of late. It is hard for me to say which article in particular might have prompted his tragic death (...) But Chernovik has always had many enemies (...) even if there is now less of the open confrontation that existed between us and the security services in 2008 and 2009.”
Magomedov added: “Our journalists are going to lose all motivation to do investigative reporting, to do really independent journalism. Our many appeals to Moscow have received no response. The federal security forces and authorities have shown no interest in solving the murders of journalists in Dagestan.”
Impunity is generalized in Dagestan, where a low-intensity civil war has escalated in the past year. On 13 October, Reporters Without Borders issued an investigative report on media freedom in Dagestan and neighbouring Chechnya entitled “Terror, threats and corruption – report of fact-finding visit to Russian Caucasus.”