A Russian journalist has been found murdered in his Moscow apartment. IIyas Shurpayev worked for the state-owned television station Channel One. The 32-year-old was found with stab wounds to his body and a belt tied around his neck. It is believed that he was strangled before his apartment was set on fire in an apparent attempt to cover up the crime.
Shurpayev was known for his conflict reporting from the Russian boundaries of Daghestan. It is believed by some that his murder is connected with his journalistic activities.
In a blog posted the same day as his death, Shurpayev said that the owner of a Daghestan newspaper had banned staff from mentioning his name or quoting his work. The blog entry was entitled ‘Now I am a dissident’.
In a separate incident, the journalist Gadzhi Abashilov was murdered by a gunman later the same day. Abashilov was the head of Daghestan’s state TV and Radio Broadcasting Company. The Russian business newspaper Kommersant claims that his death was connected to an ‘ideological’ battle he had fought against religious extremism since the late 1990s. Investigations have begun to look into these claims.
It is reported that both Shurpayev and Abashilov were banned from the popular Daghestan weekly Nastoyashee Vremya.
The Committee to Protect Journalists say that since Putin came to power over a dozen journalist murders have been left un-investigated by the authorities. The organisation had previously launched a global campaign against Russian impunity and the unsolved killings that have occurred under Putin’s rule.
Russian lawmakers have gradually withdrawn the margins of what the Kremlin regard as ‘acceptable’ journalism. The term ‘extremism’ has been redefined to include criticism of public officials and reporting on rebellious views.
According to Putin, extremist journalism includes ‘public slander directed toward figures fulfilling the state duties of the Russian Federation.’
Further alteration of Russian law has required news outlets to refer to any government-banned organisations as extremist. Conveniently bypassing any actual definition of what ‘extremist’ material is, the amended law bans all production of such work.
In 2006 the world sat up to condemn the murder of the renowned investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The Russian journalist is remembered as an incredibly brave lady who ‘would not stop reporting what she was seeing … so she was stopped.’
Politkovskaya primarily reported on the ongoing Chechen crisis and human rights abuses. Her most powerful enemy, President Vladimir Putin, is alleged to of been behind her murder. Politkovskaya was a fierce critic of Putin’s government. In her 2004 book ‘Putin’s Russia’ she lamented ‘Why is it difficult to sustain the rosy point of view when you are faced with reality in Russia?’
Although it was hoped that the assassination of the prominent journalist would compel others to continue her cause and defend the right to freedom of speech, it is becoming clearer that the authoritarianism of Putin’s Russia has continued to hamper those efforts.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights provides under Article 19 that every person shall have the right to freedom of expression. We can only hope that Dmitry Medvedev, the recently elected new Russian President, will honour the memory of those killed for speaking up for their beliefs, and respect the international conventions created to ensure democracy and freedom.
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This post was written by Chris Bath