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December 22, 2016 - Updated on December 23, 2016

Will threats against Siberian journalist go unpunished again?

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an immediate investigation into death threats against Mikhail Afanasyev, the editor of the regional news website Novy Fokus in Khakassia, in south-central Siberia, from a criminal gang whose activities he covered.


A month after drawing attention to the impunity enjoyed by the gang in Kuraga, in the southern part of the Krasnoyarsk region, Afanasyev received a call from the gang’s leader, Andrei Ashcheulov, which he recorded and posted online on 15 December.


Using threatening language, Ashcheulov and a friend calling himself Yevgeny ordered Afanasyev to delete his article. Comments such as “Hello, kamikaze,” “I’m already nearby” and “I’ll rip everything out of you” can be heard throughout the conversation.


Afanasyev reported the threats to the local police on 19 December. He is now about to file another complaint accusing his callers of “obstructing a journalist’s legal professional activity” under article 144 of the Russian criminal code. He said no action was taken after he filed a complaint earlier this year about similar threats.


“The threats against Mikhail Afanasyev are grave and must be taken seriously,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Given the available evidence, it would be incomprehensible if no investigation were quickly launched and carried through to the end.


“We will follow this case closely in order to see whether or not it is yet another example of the impunity enjoyed by only too many of those responsible for attacks against journalists in Russia.”


Afanasyev, who has often had run-ins with the local authorities, founded Novy Fokus in 2005 with the prize money of a journalism award from the Glasnost Defence Foundation, an RSF partner organization.


Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.