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Several journalists were murdered during the year, notably Anna Politkovskaya, as a result of spreading social violence and failure to punish the killers of journalists. More takeovers of media outlets continue to seriously threaten news diversity and freedom of expression.
Three journalists were murdered in 2006, bringing to 21 the number killed doing their job since President Vladimir Putin came to power in March 2000.
The killing of Anna Politkovskaya at her Moscow home on 7 October sparked international protests from governments, the European Union and NGOs. The courageous and world-renowned journalist worked for the paper Novaya Gazeta, and for many years had campaigned against the war in Chechnya and corruption and shrinking freedoms throughout the Russian Federation. Prosecutor-general Yuri Chaika personally took charge of the investigation of her death. Many leads were being examined amid general worry that the enquiry would come to nothing, like most killings of journalists in Russia.
The body of Yevgeny Gerasimenko, of the regional weekly Saratovski Rasklad, was found in his apartment by his mother on 26 July, with his head in a plastic bag and his body bearing marks of torture. Investigators ruled out a link with his job on 30 October and a Saratov court jailed a homeless man, Sergei Finogeyev, for 18 years for the murder. Gerasimenko had been looking into corruption among local businesspeople, so it is hoped that a link with his job was only excluded after thorough investigation. Ilia Zimin, of the station NTV, was found dead in his Moscow apartment on 26 February. He had been looking into hygiene in the capital’s luxury restaurants, equipped with a hidden camera. The Moscow prosecutor has not yet established a link between this and his death.
These killings provoked new public demonstrations calling for an end to violence against journalists and respect for press freedom. Protests by hundreds of people on 21 June and 15 December included slogans such as “Censorship today, prison tomorrow!” and “Down with one-party TV!” Public readings of the names of all journalists killed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 were also held.
Takeovers shrink news diversity
The media subsidiary of the natural gas conglomerate Gazprom, which is very close to the Kremlin (its main shareholder), has gained control of many media outlets, including the daily paper Kommersant, one of the last bastions of the independent media, which was bought on 31 August by mining and metals magnate Alisher Usmanov, who also owns a Gazprom subsidiary. The firm said on 21 November it would buy the country’s biggest daily paper, Komsomolskaya Pravda (2.1 million readers) in early 1997.
Pressure on the media in the provinces, where political and economic power is most narrowly concentrated, means that journalists’ room for manoeuvre is even less than in Moscow. As well as the murder of Gerasimenko, at least five other provincial journalists were physically attacked and one (Elina Ersenoyeva) vanished in Chechnya, which remained a “black hole” for news, even though Putin said the rebellious province was “completely back under control of the Russian constitution.”
The supreme court overturned on 9 November the acquittal of three men for the July 2004 shooting murder of US journalist Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, The three - Fail Sadretdinov, Musa Vakhayev and Kazbek Dukuzov - had been cleared at the country’s first assises trial on 10 January. They will now be retried by a Moscow court, which may open the case to the public for the first time.