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19 Jun, 2007 14:41

U.S. lawmakers concerned with journalist killings in Russia

The murder of several high-profile journalists in Russia in the last ten years has provoked outrage around the world. The U.S. Congress is appealing directly to the Russian President to investigate the deaths more thoroughly.

Paul Khlebnikov, Chief Editor of Forbes Russia; Anna Politkovskaya, a renowned Russian journalist and winner of dozens of international awards and Ivan Safronov, a military affairs reporter for the Kommersant newspaper – all were killed in suspicious circumstances in recent years.

They are just some of deaths in the last 15 years, which shocked the journalism community in and outside Russia. None of those killings have so far been solved.

“It's the law enforcement agencies who are responsible for that. It's not only about investigating a crime, but also about preventing it. And in many cases they fail to do both. The Public Chamber along with human rights activists constantly demand that such cases must be thoroughly investigated,” says Anatoly Kucherena, lawyer.

That also seems to worry U.S. congressmen. Almost unanimously they have voted on a resolution, calling on Russian authorities to step-up efforts in investigating a string of journalist killings in Russia. Its author, congressman Chris Smith, believes that “when journalists can be killed without their killers brought to justice, it intimidates and has a chilling effect on other journalists. As a result the Russian press cannot function properly”.

The resolution has already caused mixed reactions among Russian journalists.

Vsevolod Bogdanov, the head of Russia's Journalists Union, calls it a shame for the country.

“Journalists are the ears and eyes of the society. And the authorities must do everything they can to assist them in their work. Especially when it concerns risks and dangers. I don't understand why it's the U.S. Congress who tries to protect us. It would have been more important to me if the Russian parliament came up with such a resolution,” he said.

Elena Zelinskaya, Vice Chairman of Russia's Media Workers Union NGO, says that U.S. congressmen – just as many western media outlets – are dramatising the situation and the number of journalists killed in Russia is often exaggerated. However, she believes the resolution can be useful.

“We do have problems and situation in Russian journalism leaves much to be desired.   But if the United States has some real facts, which can help the investigation – then such helping hand is welcome. And that does not require any special resolutions. Otherwise it could be seen as interference into internal affairs,” Ms Zelinskaya believes.

And a helping hand is what congressmen are also suggesting – to formally offer Russian law enforcers assistance from the United States in identifying and bringing those responsible to justice. But for now such offer hasn't yet been made.

It is not yet clear whether the U.S. Congress resolution will have any effect. But media unions in Russia say it may eventually result in more thorough investigation into murders of journalists. Even one case solved, they say, can change the outlook of Russian journalism.