Reporters Without Borders is stunned to learn that media owner Grigorijs Ņemcovs was the victim of an apparent contract killing on 16 April in Daugavpils, the largest city in the southeastern region of Latgale.
Publisher of the regional newspaper Million and owner of a local TV station of the same name, Ņemcovs was shot twice in the head at close range when he went to a meeting in a café. He was already dead when the emergency services arrived at the scene.
“We are both shocked and surprised by this murder,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Our thoughts are with Ņemcovs’ wife and daughter, and we offer them our condolences. Carried out with remarkable professionalism, this murder is incomprehensible. Its motives must be identified. The killing of a journalist is always unacceptable and poses a threat to all the media.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We urge the Latvian authorities to pursue their investigation until the masterminds are identified. This murder must not remain unpunished”
Ņemcovs’ murder, which took place at around 5 p.m. on 16 April, appears to have been carefully planned and executed. The gunman seems to have been following Ņemcovs when he arrived at a café on Lacplesa Street near the University of Daugavpils. The police, who have formally opened an investigation, found bullet casings along with the gun near the crime scene but have not yet identified any suspects.
Founded by Ņemcovs in 1995 and now Latvia’s biggest regional Russian-language newspaper, Million is renowned for its investigative coverage of political and local government corruption and mismanagement. Ņemcovs was also an activist and deputy mayor of Daugavpils whose support played a major role in the success of the civil society movement Latgales Tauta (Nation of Latgale).
Death threats were made against Ņemcovs in 2007 and his house was burned down. The arsonists were never identified. He was also physically attacked in 2000 by unidentified assailants who took his passport.
Latvia has seen a number of serious press freedom violations in recent years. Gundars Matīss, a journalist working for the daily Kurzemes Vārds (in the Liepāja region), was murdered in connection with his work in 2001. Other journalists have been stabbed or beaten in the past decade. The offices of the daily Neatkariga Rita Avize were ransacked in January of this year. Not all of these cases have been solved.