Reporters Without Borders has released its annual index on worldwide press freedom. The questionnaire the group used to calculate the index can be found here. According to the report Russia ranks 147th, where it is sandwiched between Singapore and Tunisia. Last year, Russia was ranked 138th. RWB explains the reason for the drop as follows:
Russia, which suffers from a basic lack of democracy, continues slowly but steadily dismantling the free media, with industrial groups close to President Vladimir Putin buying up nearly all independent media outlets and with passage of a law discouraging NGO activity.
Each year several journalists are murdered in Russia with complete impunity. The person who ordered the July 2004 killing in Moscow of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, remains publicly unknown. The murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in early October 2006 is a poor omen for the coming year.
When put into context, the decline in the free press in Russia is symbolic of a global phenomenon. The index also notes that even traditionally high ranked countries like France, the United States, and Japan has seen press freedom deteriorate. Since 2002, when the ranking was created, the US has fallen from 17th to its current position of 53rd. It dropped seven ranks in the last year. RWB explains the drop in the US as a result of, “Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.”
France has dropped a whopping 24 places in the last five years to its current position of 35th. French journalists have been victims of increasing police searches and violence. Japan, which has fallen 14 places to 51st, has seen the press under increasing verbally and physically attacked by nationalist forces.
The main culprits for the deterioration of press freedom aren’t surprising: war, nationalism, state censorship, and political and economic instability all contribute to a climate where journalists craft becomes dangerous.
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Central Bank of Russia First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov’s killers have been caught. Or so we are told. On 16 October, Kommersant published a rather detailed tale of how Kozlov and his driver Alexander Semenov were victims of three hired killers, Alexey Polovinkin, Maxim Proglyada and Alexander Belokopytov. The three are 35 year old citizens from Ukraine, but form the description of events provided by Kommersant, the three are hardly experts in the field of contract killing. If their story is true, they were duped themselves. The mysterious intermediary that hired them for the job didn’t pay them. This led one of the suspects to voluntarily contact the police out of fear for his life.
Yet, despite their confessions, police believe that Polovinkin, Proglayada, and Belokorytov have more to tell. Their description of the “intermediary” sounds like something right out of X-Files or All the President’s Men. As Kommersant reporter Sergey Dyupin writes:
Although all three suspects have confessed to their parts in the killings, investigators are convinced that they have more information to provide. Polovinkin, who was the only one to speak to the intermediary, for instance, says they met only in the dark and that he is unable to describe him. Their communications could be traced, except the suspected abandoned their phones “somewhere” in the forest and have forgotten their own and the intermediary’s phone numbers.
Nevertheless, if one follows Kommersant’s account the Kozlov murder is a rare example of an open and shut case. Except that it all sounds a bit too simple for the killing of such a high profile figure like Kozlov.
Kozlov was no friend of the corrupt world of Russian banking. In fact the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the Central Bank of Russia recently uncovered a widespread money laundering ring that involved a “Georgian criminal organization.” The case was opened in 2005 based on investigations by the state run “Deposit Insurance Agency” did of two banks, Rodnik and New Economic Position. Kozlov’s started the DIA in 2004 to improve banking transparency. While one can’t help questioning the timing of the sting given tensions with Georgia and the government racist targeting of Georgians, according to a press release from the MVD’s Department of Economic Security, the ring, which consisted of Print Bank, Vek-Bank, Investkombank Balkom, and UKB Tsenturion, laundered up to $500,000 a day. According to the MVD, the ring has tight relations with Georgians, former fighters in Abkhazia, as well as Russian criminal organizations.” The release even made claims that the some of the money was being sent to fighters in Abkhazia to ensure “a small triumphant war.”
It is the simple explaination given by the killers and repeated by the police that makes explanation of Kozlov’s murder difficult to swallow. The involvement of three Ukrainian failed businessmen and a dark and spooky “intermediary” sounds too easy.
“The crime is solved. Quick and simple” writes Novaya gazeta reporter Igor’ Korol’kov with skepticism. “This is either a really a rare success which happens “once in a thousand years” and becomes well know to every detective. Or there is something here that is not as it seems. Detectives say that when everything easily and immediately comes “to light,” it cannot not be suspicious.” What follows is Korol’kov’s break down of the many aspects of what the police are reporting.
First, Korol’kov suggests that there are cases when would-be killers approach police, but this usually occurs before the murder, not after. This is because, unlike in the United States, plea bargains don’t exist in Russia and therefore “the criminal world cooperates with the police only in cases if the person is being intimidated or tortured.”
Second, he asks what many people are wondering. If the killers were so afraid for their lives, why have they divulged any information about the mysterious “intermediary” or about who hired them? Surely, they would give up all the information they have so the police could protect them?
Thirdly, Korol’kov doesn’t buy the official version the cops are providing to the media. That version paints a picture of three Ukrainian bunglers who killed Kozlov because they were told that “he conned good people.” The killers didn’t have much of a plan, but instead seized the moment when Kozlov was coming out of Spartak stadium. Considering that Kozlov was such a high profile figure, this version sounds too far fetched or too good to be true.
Instead Korol’kov points to another version floating around. One that suggests that there is a more widespread conspiracy at work. He writes,
“According to another version, given to the mass media, the killers nevertheless prepared just in time for the murder. And they themselves chose the place to shoot.
There are very many gaps in the version about the voluntary confession of Kozlov’s supposed killers. Possibly they explain the leaks various sources have let out, every one of which possesses information according on their rank. Possibly the investigation has still not sculpted a single version from the killers’ confession, thereby completely cloaking other genuine reasons why the killers turned up. But from what I know from sources close to the investigation in the General Procuracy, several gaps complicate the investigation itself. And it doesn’t eliminate the version about the [killers’] support. About the attempt to direct the investigation along a false path. A group of people can only play the role of killers, telling everything about themselves and nothing about the intermediary or client of the murder. The account is simple: delighted investigators will throw out all remaining versions and they will develop a single version, passing [the killers] off as quite intelligent and resourceful people. And after a time the killers will retreat from their previous testimony, thinking up some other kind of justification for their “confession of guilt.”
“This is the only version and it is set forth with a singe purpose: so that the investigation doesn’t make the head dizzy.”
Essentially, Korol’kov argues that Kozlov was one of those rare Russian officials that take “state affairs personally.” “He did not simply ceremoniously perform his function as the First Deputy Chairman, but aspired to achieve real results.” This is what made him a danger to so many corrupt banking groups, making his assassination by a few failed Ukrainian business men concerned about a banker who “conned good people” difficult to swallow.Post Views: 173
It seems that we can add another body to the pile. Last Friday, Kommersant military affairs correspondent, Ivan Safronov mysteriously fell to his death from a stairway window of his apartment building. At first, Safronov’s death was ruled a suicide, but Taganka police confirmed today that a criminal investigation has been opened to probe the incident.
The incident was not without a few witnesses. According Kommersant:
Two students who live in the building across the courtyard witnessed his death. “At about [4:00], my friend and I stepped out onto the balcony to smoke,” recounted Lena, a psychology student at the Sholokhov Pedagogical Institute. “Suddenly we heard a thud, like snow falling off the rooftop. It was almost empty in the courtyard, and we immediately noticed a man lying directly in front of the canopy over the second entranceway to building No. 9. He was lying on his stomach, and it seemed to us that he tried to get up, but couldn’t.” Noticing the open window on the stairway between the fourth and fifth floors and the fact that the man’s shoes had come off and his jacket and sweater were pulled up to his armpits, the girls called an ambulance. Their call was not accepted, however. “We cannot collect all the drunks in Moscow on Friday night,” they were told, along with the advice to call back in half an hour if he was still there. He did not go away. On the contrary, he stopped moving altogether.
Lena and her friend report that they did not see anyone near Safronov, nor anyone in the windows of the stairway or leaving through that door. At least three of his neighbors on the fourth and fifth floors, an elderly lady, a young mother and a middle-aged housewife, were hole at the time. They did not hear any suspicious noises on the stairway.
Evidence of foul play has not been found, but to colleagues and friends, the idea that Safronov committed suicide seems completely implausible. True, Safronov was recently diagnosed with a stomach ulcer, but that is hardly a reason to throw yourself out a fourth story window. No suicide note was found, and according to phone records collected by Kommersant, everyone who talked with Safronov before the incident didn’t recognize anything to suggest that he was distraught, let alone on the verge of offing himself.
The question is then if Safronov didn’t commit suicide, they why was he killed? Kommersant points a recent story he was working on:
Kommersant deputy editor-in-chief Bulavinov noted that Safronov’s death may have been violent and related to his professional activities. “We cannot exclude that possibility, even though there is no direct evidence,” he said. The newspaper is aware of only one sensitive topic that Safronov was working on.
Safronov stated that he would check information that he had received on possible new deliveries of Russian weapons to the Middle East while at the IDEX 2007 arms exhibition in the United Arab Emirates. That exhibition opened February 17. Safronov was interested in the sale of Su-30 fighter jets to Syria and S-300V missiles to Iran. He had information that those deals would be concluded through Belarus, in order for Moscow to avoid accusations in the West of selling weapons to pariah states. Safronov called the editorial office from Abu Dhabi to say that he had found confirmation of his facts.
“In the first days in Abu Dhabi, Ivan was perky and cheerful as usual,” recounted journalist Vladimir Stepanov. “But on the fourth day, he seemed to change. His mood became steadily bad. He even stopped coming to dinner, saying his stomach hurt. Once he woke up the front desk at [6:00] in the morning to ask for analgesic.” Stepanov said that Safronov had no personal conflicts with anyone there, however.
Back in Moscow, Safronov did not return to work because of his health. He did attend a press conference held by the head of the Federal Service of Military and Technical Cooperation Mikhail Dmitriev at ITAR-TASS on February 27, however. There he told colleagues that he had found information that more contracts had been signed between Russia and Syria for the sale of MiG-29 jets and Pantsir-S1 and Iskander-E missiles. He added that he would not write about those deals, however, because he had been warned that doing so would cause an international scandal and the FSB would made charges against him of revealing state secrets stick. Investigations of Safronov for revealing state secrets had been started before, but no charges had veer been filed against him. He did not say who had warned him. The same day, Safronov called Kommersant and said that he would dictate his story about arms deliveries through Belarus over the telephone. He did not do so, however.
This explanation of course fuels an already smoldering fire when it comes to journalists in Russia. If Safronov’s death turns out to be murder, he will be the 14th journalist killed since Putin became president. Not to mention the several Kremlin critics who’ve recently ended up whacked. These facts are already causing news reports to connect a variety of dots that begins with Anna Politkovskaya, runs through Alexander Litvinenko, twists around Paul Joyal, and now is looking to lasso Ivan Safronov. All of this has got to perk the suspicions of even Putin’s most ardent supporters.Post Views: 155
Sometimes I come across articles that are so compelling, I have to mention them whether they are about
or not. Patrick Cockburn’s article “ Russia : The Reality” published in the Independent UK on October 12 is one of them. The article is an edited extract from his book The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq published by Verso. Iraq
Here is a passage:
High rank was no defence against violence. The Iraqi police general in charge of the serious crimes squad was shot through the head by an American soldier who mistook him for a suicide bomber. President Jalal Talabani’s head of protocol was not with him when he visited
to see President Bush. Instead he was in a Washington hospital with a broken arm and leg after a US Humvee rammed his vehicle. Baghdad
So many people were being killed in
every day for so many reasons that the outside world had come to ignore the slaughter and Iraqis themselves were almost used to it. The death of a thousand people in a stampede during a Shia religious festival in September 2005 was only a one-day wonder abroad. It is worth looking at just three acts of violence in a small part of Iraq to show how casual killings and kidnappings impacted on the people of the city. They took place within a few days of each other in September 2005 in or close to al-Kudat, a previously prosperous district in the south-west of the city where many doctors and lawyers once lived. It was by no means the most dangerous part of Baghdad , and the days when the following events occurred were quieter than those that followed. Baghdad
The first killing was at the hands of the Americans. Early one morning a surgeon called Basil Abbas Hassan decided to leave his house in al-Kudat for his hospital in the centre of
at 7.15am in order to beat the morning rush hour. Dr Hassan, a specialist in head surgery, was the kind of man who should have been one of the building blocks of the new Baghdad . He drove his car out of a side street on to the airport road without noticing that an American convoy was approaching from behind him. A Iraq soldier thought the car might be driven by a suicide bomber and shot Dr Hassan dead. Not many of his friends attended his funeral because so many had already left US . Iraq
Mobile phone theft is common all over the world, but in
people will kill for a handset. This is not because they are more expensive than elsewhere in the world – in fact they are cheaper because nobody pays any tariffs on them – but because murder is so easy. No criminal expects to be caught. A few days after Dr Hassan was killed by the Americans, a 16-year-old, Muhammad Ahmed, was making a call on his mobile as he walked down the street. A car drew up beside him and a man pointed a pistol. He said: “Give me your phone.” Muhammad refused or hesitated to hand it over for a few seconds too long and the gunman killed him with a bullet in the neck. Baghdad
The third story has a happier ending, though at one moment it seemed likely to end in tragedy. It happened in another street in al-Kudat. The mother of a friend called Ismail told him that there was a strange car parked outside the house. She wanted him to find out to whom it belonged. It did not seem likely that anybody would leave a car bomb in a residential street because US or Iraqi patrols never used it. But anything out of the ordinary in
may be dangerous and is routinely checked out. Baghdad
I think Cockburn’s reporting gives us some good food for thought as we examine the violence in places like
Iraq, Chechnya, Sudan, , etc. Somalia
Post Views: 290