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Russia10 April 2009

Prosecutors say Novaya Gazeta journalist’s mysterious death was not murder

Reporters Without Borders is extremely disappointed by yesterday’s decision by the prosecutor-general’s office to close the investigation into the death of Yuri Shchekochikhin, the deputy editor of the Moscow-based biweekly Novaya Gazeta and a member of the Russian Duma (parliament), in mysterious circumstances in July 2003. His colleagues believe he was poisoned.

“It is disheartening that all the efforts by Shchekochikhin’s colleagues have come to nothing,” Reporters Without Borders said. “There was clearly no political interest in solving this murder. Impunity appears to be the rule in Russia, and has been reaffirmed in this case.”

The investigations committee of the prosecutor-general’s office, which began an investigation Shchekochikhin’s death a year ago, said yesterday that examination of his body had yielded no evidence of poisoning or death by violence, and attributed his death to a strong allergic reaction resulting from a skin condition.

Shchekochikhin’s son said he will appeal against the decision to close the case.

An investigative journalist who represented the opposition Yabloko party in the Duma, Shchekochikhin died in a hospital on 2 July 2003, ten days after being taken there in a coma. Doctors said he died of natural causes linked to an allergy, but his fellow journalists maintained that he had been poisoned. He had received repeated threats.

As a reporter, Shchekochikhin wrote about Chechnya and corruption involving senior government officials. As a parliamentarian, he participated in an independent commission’s investigation into claims that the Federal Security Service (the former KGB), was involved in the 1999 bombings of apartment blocks in Moscow, Buynaksk and Volgodonsk, which were used by then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to launch the second war in Chechnya.

The authorities refused twice, in 2003 and 2006, to open a judicial investigation into Shchekochikhin’s death. Finally, in March 2008, the investigations committee of the prosecutor-general’s office began in investigation into the possibility that it was a homicide.

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