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'End Government-Sponsored Repression'

Russia -- US President Barack Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting at the latter's country residence home in Novo Ogaryovo, near Moscow, on 07Jul2009.
Over 70 members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to President Obama this week urging him and the members of his administration to respond to “the pattern of murders of journalists and human rights activists in Russia.” The letter calls attention to the fact that the killings of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova have not been solved, and cites findings of international watchdog groups that rank Russia as “one of the most dangerous places in the world for working journalists.”

The signatories, who include Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, request that the President “take these extremely troubling and important matters into consideration as you formulate and implement United States foreign policy toward Russia, and that you demand immediate steps by the Russian government to end what appears to be government-sponsored repression.”

Several recent cases underscore the hazards and challenges facing independent journalists in Russia. In a ruling that some observers have called a “miscarriage of justice,” a court in Ingushetia sentenced a Russian police officer to just two years in prison for the murder in August 2008 of Magomed Yavloyev, editor of the independent website, Yavloyev had been in police custody when the shooting occurred and sustained shots to the head.

In an example of blatant intimidation, Mikhail Voitenko, an expert on piracy and editor of Sovfrakht Marine Bulletin, received anonymous phone-calls advising him to leave Russia or face arrest after he published materials questioning the official version of the Artic Sea merchant ship incident earlier this fall. Voitenko fled to Turkey.

Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of the on-line resource Novy Focus, who sought to conduct his own investigation into the explosion at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant this August, was charged with "criminal libel" for allegedly making defamatory statements about the plant’s management and the government’s rescue effort. The charges were ultimately dropped.

Mikhail Beketov, former editor of Khimkinskaya Pravda, reported on local politics and environmental issues in his Moscow suburb of Khimki before being brutally beaten in an attack in November, 2008 that, one year later, has left him hospitalized and severely disabled.

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ September report, Anatomy of Injustice, gives an accounting of 17 murders of journalists in Russia since 2000.