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Russia - Republic of Bashkiria24 July 2002

Editor of only opposition newspaper killed in suspicious accident

The editor of the sole opposition paper in the small Russian republic of Bashkiria died on 20 July from serious injuries received when his car crashed into a lorry. Firat Valeyev, who edited Vechernu Neftekamsk, had often had threats and his colleagues suspected a contract killing.

The paper, published outside the republic for the past seven years, had often printed articles sharply criticising Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov and denouncing government corruption.

"We fear that no serious investigation will be made into this suspicious accident in Bashkiria," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Russian general prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov.

"Threats to journalists have reached an unprecedented level in the Russian regions," he said. "In some republics, the authorities use violence to silence opposition journalists with complete impunity and local courts often protect those responsible."

"So we ask you to take up the cases of killings and suspect accidents involving journalists and with which local officials are thought to be connected. The security of regional journalists is too serious a threat to Russian democracy for you not give the matter your priority," Ménard said.

Ustinov asked regional prosecutors on 12 July to crack down on violations of press freedom by regional and local authorities.




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