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Russia8 March 2007

Kommersant deputy editor says reporter’s death should not be politicised

Reporters Without Borders has interviewed Kommersant deputy editor Ilya Bulivanov about the mysterious death of one of its journalists, Ivan Safronov, in a fall from the fifth floor of his Moscow apartment building on 2 March. The police initially treated it as a suicide, eliciting energetic protests from Kommersant. Prosecutors finally said on 5 March they were investigating the possibility that it was the result of “incitement to suicide.”

Given the sensitive nature of the subjects Safronov wrote about, Reporters Without Borders firmly believes the police should be investigating the possibility that he was killed in connection with his work as a journalist.

Reporters Without Borders: Do you think Ivan Safronov’s death was the result of a criminal act?

Ilya Bulavinov: If it was a violent death, it was probably linked to his professional activity. But for the time being there are no grounds for claiming this.

What story was he working on at the time of his death? After attending the IDEX-2007 show, he wanted to work on Russian arms sales to the Middle East. This exhibition, one of the biggest in the arms world, took place on 17 February in Abu Dhabi. Ivan wanted to investigate deliveries of SU-30 fighters and other weapons to Syria and deliveries of C-300B anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. We never got this article. That is all we know.

When did you see Ivan for the last time? Before the show, that is to say, a month ago. He had not come to the newspaper since then.

Do you know if he had received threats? What I can say is that he knew that arms contracts were as sensitive subject. Especially as writing about this subject could be seen as “divulging state secrets.” Ivan and I had been summoned to testify in criminal trials for divulging state secrets. He had often been asked to reveal his sources. But Ivan was a very careful and scrupulous man. He always kept lots of different documents and could prove he got his information from known sources.

The authorities are now investigating the possibility of “incitement to suicide.” What does that mean? Incitement to suicide could, for example, consist of regular telephone threats and so on. We are satisfied with this term. Initially, after Ivan’s death, we had a clear impression that no one wanted to deal with this case. The investigating judges in particular were very reluctant to act. But the public tributes paid to Ivan and statements by many journalists prompted the decision to open an investigation.

Will Kommersant carry out its own investigation? Unfortunately, our resources cannot be compared with those of the prosecutor’s office. I think we have already done everything we can. We interviewed Ivan’s neighbours, his friends and relatives, and his doctor. He had a stomach ulcer which got worse some time ago. We thought that his doctor, whom he had just seen prior to his death, may have given him very bad news. But the doctor told us Ivan did not have any serious ailment and that his condition was even improving.

Do you think Ivan may have killed himself? No. He had a very happy family life. He was very involved in preparing the future of his son, who is a student. Ivan was a man who was very conscious of his responsibilities towards those close to him. He supported his family. All this confirms that he could not have killed himself. He loved his family too much to abandon them.

I would also like to say that this case is being politicised. People should not write that Ivan was an opponent of the regime. That would be false. He was never an opponent. Yes, he had brushes with this or that official. Some of them did not like him. But he was not an opponent they would have wanted to kill.

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