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Russia2 July 2004

No progress in enquiry a year after kidnapping of AFP journalist in Ingushetia : UN and Council of Europe petitioned

Reporters Without Borders has petitioned the UN Working Group on Enforced or Voluntary Disappearances about the kidnapping in Ingushetia of Ali Astamirov, correspondent of the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) there and in neighbouring Chechnya, on 4 July last year, since when there has been no news of him or progress in the official enquiry.

It has called on the Working Group to take steps to investigate the case and to see that every effort is made by the Russian and Ingushetian authorities to find out what happened to him.

It has also asked the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, and the president of the Council’s assembly, Peter Shieder, to set up a special commission to deal with the case and to press the Russians and Ingushetians to redouble their efforts to solve the disappearance.

"We do not know if Astamirov is still alive, who his kidnappers are and why they seized him," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "The total lack of news is disturbing. We cannot allow him to be forgotten in a region where working as a journalist is extremely dangerous and where news is sparse."

The official investigators in Moscow and Nazran, the Ingushetian capital, have come up with nothing in their enquiries. No ransom demand has been received by his family or by AFP and the kidnappers have not tried to contact them.

Astamirov was taken away by armed men in the village of Altievo, three km from Nazran, in the presence of other journalists. A 34-year-old Chechen with two children, he had been with AFP for a year after working for a privately-owned radio station in Grozny and, between 1998 and October 1999, when fighting began in Chechnya, for the local branch of the then-independent Russian TV station NTV.

In the months before he was seized, he had received anonymous threats and had moved house for safety reasons. This and the absence of any ransom demand suggests he was kidnapped because of his journalistic work.

Reporters Without Borders sponsored an appeal in October 2003 for his release, signed by 10 former journalist hostages. "One of the few journalists reporting on this terrible war and its litany of abuses has been silenced," they noted. The 10 journalists (and the dates they were kidnapped) were:

Roger Auque - Lebanon (1987) Maryse Burgot - Jolo, Philippines (2000) Scott Dalton - Colombia (2003) Jean-Jacques Le Garrec - Jolo, Philippines (2000) Jean-Paul Kauffmann - Lebanon (1985-88) Andreas Lorenz - Jolo, Philippines (2003) Roland Madura - Jolo, Philippines (2000) Ruth Morris - Colombia (2003) Jean-Louis Normandin - Lebanon (1986-87) Philippe Rochot - Lebanon (1986)




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