More and more journalists are being attacked and killed and the legal harassment of some media is forcing the entire press to censor itself. This situation is a grave threat to the future of Russian democracy.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) today deplored the "intolerable" state of press freedom in Russia and called on President Vladimir Putin to take steps to correct the situation, which it said was "a grave threat to the future of Russian democracy."
"The government keeps giving assurances about media freedom," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Putin, "but more and more journalists are being attacked and killed and the legal harassment of some media is forcing the entire press to censor itself."
RSF learns that on 30 March a legal investigation was begun of Igor Zotov, editor-in-chief of the daily paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, owned by businessman Boris Berezovsky, for libelling a Moscow judge. The paper's staff say the move is legal harassment similar to last year's campaign against Yevgeny Kiselev, head of the TV6 television station, which was the centrepiece of Berezovsky's media empire before its broadcasting licence was reassigned to a group of journalists who had allied themselves with pro-government figures.
Alexei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, which promotes press freedom in Russia, said the action against Nezavisimaya Gazeta showed the authorities were "continuing their purge of the media" and wanted to "remind all journalists to think very carefully before they wrote or said anything."
In February, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta was ordered to pay 30 million rubles (_1.1 million) in libel damages after an article accused a local official of corruption.
Last year's upsurge in killings of journalists and attacks on them has continued. On 31 March, Valery Batuyev, a reporter on the weekly Moskovsky Novosti, who specialises in Chechnya, was murdered at his home in Moscow. A suspect has been arrested and the crime is not thought to be linked with his journalism.
Natalia Skryl, an economic reporter on the newspaper Nashe Vremia, in Rostov-on-Don (southwestern Russia), was killed on 8 March near her home in Taganrog. Vera Yuzhanskaya, the paper's editor, said the murder was connected with her investigations into the activities of large firms in the region.
On 11 March, someone tried to kill Sergei Solovkin, a correspondent for the Sochi fortnightly Novaya Gazeta, and his wife. He had recently written articles on corruption in the Krasnodar region.
RSF notes that journalist Grigory Pasko, who worked for the naval daily Boyvaya Vakhta, is in prison after receiving a new jail sentence last December from the Vladivostok military court. He was jailed on 20 November 1997 and held for nearly a year and eight months for having "gathered state secrets with intent to pass them on to foreign organisations."
At the time he was a correspondent aboard the Russian tanker TNT 27 and had filmed the dumping of liquid radioactive waste in the Sea of Japan. The footage was shown on the Japanese TV station NHK, without Pasko's consent, and caused outrage in Japan. Pasko had also written about pollution caused by the virtual abandonment of Russian military nuclear submarines and the involvement of the FSB (the Russian security service) in deals concerning nuclear waste.