Orkhan Dzhemal, a well-known freelance war reporter, documentary filmmaker Alexander Rastorguyev and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were murdered by unidentified armed men on the night of 30 July near Sibut, a city 300 km north of the CAR capital, Bangui.
Communication minister and government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui said on TVCA last night that nine “turbaned kidnappers” speaking “neither French nor Sango” (the national language) shot the three Russian journalists after intercepting their vehicle 23 km outside Sibut.
Kazagui said that, thanks to the information provided by their driver, who managed to escape after being wounded, it was known that one of the journalists died on the spot and the other two died of their injuries shortly afterwards
According to the information obtained by RSF, the three Russian journalists had arrived in the CAR several days previously with the aim of investigating the role of mercenaries working for Wagner, a private Russian security company that is also known to be active in Syria.
Kazagui said the three journalists did not have press accreditation. But they were carrying press cards, according to the Russia foreign ministry, which said its embassy in Bangui had not, however, been informed of their presence in the CAR.
“Four years after French photojournalist Camille Lepage was killed in the CAR, this triple murder has shown the degree to which it is still extremely dangerous for journalists to cover the conflict in this country,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“We condemn these murders in the strongest terms and we urge the CAR and Russian authorities to conduct a serious and thorough investigation in order to identify those responsible.”
Investigation Control Centre (TsUR), an online investigative news website owned by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has confirmed that it asked the three journalists to make the documentary on this sensitive subject. Khodorkovsky is a former Russian oil industry magnate who now lives in exile and is one Vladimir Putin’s leading opponents.
Russia has stepped up its military presence in the CAR considerably since France withdrew its military intervention force, Operation Sangaris, in October 2016. President Faustin-Archange Touadéra is now protected by Russian soldiers, who provide training to the Central African Armed Forces (FACA). A significant amount of Russian arms were also delivered to the CAR from December 2017 to February 2018.
The CAR has been embroiled in an armed conflict ever since President François Bozizé was overthrown in March 2013 by the Seleka, a coalition of mainly Muslim militias. Christian self-defence groups called Anti-Balaka were then formed to combat the Seleka, plunging the country into a spiral of violence.
Camille Lepage, a 26-year-old French photojournalist, was murdered on 12 May 2014 while out reporting with an Anti-Balaka militia. RSF recently deplored the fact that her murderers have still not been identified and that judicial problems in Bangui continue to hold up the investigation
The Central African Republic is ranked 112th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.