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Russia27 September 2002

Unprecedented violence against journalists in Penza region

Reporters Without Borders expressed alarm today at a wave of violence in recent days against journalists and the media in the Penza region, several hundred kms southeast of Moscow.

"The situation there is very serious," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Russia’s chief prosecutor, Vladimir Ustinov. "One journalist has disappeared, a media assistant has been murdered and six journalists have been beaten and threatened.

"Regional and federal authorities must not ignore these crimes, which are an unprecedented wave of violence against independent journalists in Russia. We ask you to do all you can to see that those responsible are found and tried. We also ask you to search for the vanished journalist, Yuri Frolov, and confirm that his disappearance is connected with his work," Ménard said.

Investigative journalist Alexander Kizlov, of the daily Penzenskaya Pravda, was beaten and seriously injured by two youths with iron bars in the city of Penza on 25 September. He had recently published articles in several papers (including the Moscow daily Izvestia) criticising the Penza’s mayor, Alexander Kalashnikov.

Igor Salikov, head of security at the publishing firm Propaganda and the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets v Penze, in the town of Arbekov, was shot dead on 20 September. Over the previous two weeks, the paper had run articles criticising mayor Kalashnikov too. Local journalists Mikhail Yeliseyev and Vladimir Petrin said however that Salikov may have been the victim of score-settling among criminal gangs.

Thugs burst into the offices of the communist opposition paper Lyubimyi Gorod in Penza on 11 September and beat up chief editor Anton Sharonov, journalist Denis Abramov and editorial assistants Natalia Sisova and Nadezhda Gorshkova. Sharonov was beaten unconscious. The paper is a frequent critic of Penza governor Grigory Bochkarev and the regional government. The journalists said they had earlier received threats.

Thugs beat and kidnapped Victor Shamayev, a correspondent for Pensenskaya Pravda and an organised crime specialist, on 14 September. They warned him to stop working as a journalist and leave town. He is recovering in hospital.

In the first week of September, strangers made death threats to Yuri Frolov, deputy head of the Propaganda publishing house, which publishes Moskovsky Komsomolets v Penze, after the paper criticised mayor Kalashnikov. They told him to stop printing such articles. Frolov phoned his colleagues and told them about the death threats. He has not been seen since.

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