141 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 17,075,400 sq. km.
Head of state: Dmitri Medvedev (since May 2008)
In a year, 2008-2009, that saw the election of Dmitri Medvedev and the appointment of Vladimir Putin to the post of Prime Minister, new obstacles to the work of journalists were added to the problems that beset them in the past ten years.
Even as most Russians get their news from the television, there is a total absence of pluralism in the broadcast sector. Opposition representatives or figures critical of the government who appear on black lists are excluded from national television. Incidents involving journalists marred 2008 presidential elections and underlined the authorities’ nervousness about the independent press.
Murders and attack on journalists and human rights defenders only confirm the urgency of the issue of impunity. Head of state, Dmitri Medvedev, has moreover admitted the existence of political murders in Russia and that journalists are among its victims. The most striking examples of assaults on journalists include the beating of Mikhail Beketov, who had to have a leg and several fingers amputated, and the murders in a Moscow street in January 2009 of Anastasia Baburova (Novaya Gazeta) and human rights lawyer Satnislav Markelov. Similarly, the deadlock in the case of the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya after a highly compromised trial and the acquittal of three men accused of involvement in the murder. The actual killer and the instigator are still at large, despite an international arrest warrant for the murderer himself, while the investigation has virtually stalled.
The world financial crisis has had unexpected consequences for Russian journalists, awakening a censorship reflex on the part of the authorities. The chief prosecutor has been given the task of closely watching media handling of the crisis. In some regions, especially in Sverdlovsk, the order has been put into effect among others by the regional management of the secret services, the FSB. Several media and journalists have had run-ins with the courts, after for example, publishing analysis from a sociologist about the possible consequences of the crisis or going into the state of the accounts of some financial concerns.
Attempts to intimidate the independent and opposition press have continued. Official harassment is used to paralyse media on the pretext that they are suspected of using pirated software or illegally receiving funds from abroad. In one episode, journalist Natalia Morar, who had investigated secret funding of the electoral campaign of the majority United Russia party during legislative elections was refused the right to return to Russia after she made a trip abroad. The FSB considers her a threat to internal security and she is now living in Moldavia. The law on extremism also provides a convenient pretext for gagging potential dissidents. The web site Ingushetia.ru (now Ingushetia.org), a rare source of news on the Caucasus republic of Ingushetia’s social and security situation, has been made inaccessible within the territory.
Its owner, Magomed Evloyev, was murdered after his plane touched down in Nazran on a flight from Moscow and the editor has had to seek political asylum abroad. A contributor to the site, an activist in a local human rights organisation, was abducted and tortured in a bid to force him to halt his activities.
The latest wave of violence has brought to 20 the number of journalists killed because of their work in Russia since March 2000.