Duma ponders tougher punishment for journalist attacks

Duma ponders tougher punishment for journalist attacks
Following the recent murder of a reporter in South Russia’s Dagestan, two Russian MPs want to toughen the punishment for crimes against journalists, such as murder, violence and threats.

MPs suggested amending the Criminal Code so that violence or threats against reporters are punished by up to five years in prison, and if such violence proves to be a threat to the victim’s life or health it should be punished with up to 10 years in prison.

The current version of the code orders up to six years in prison for such offences, but only in cases when the reporters were attacked or threatened in the course of their work. The new bill proposes extending the punishment to all attacks tied with the reporters’ professional activities.

Valery Trapeznikov (United Russia) said that reporters who cover such issues as crime and corruption needed additional protection from the state as they were helping the law enforcers.

A journalist can be outside his office and not be on some sort of assignment when he is attacked, but they are in the “front row of attack” almost constantly. Therefore crimes committed against journalists are often connected with his work, as happened for example with Oleg Kashin,” explained Mikhail Serdyuk (Fair Russia).

Journalist with Kommersant newspaper Oleg Kashin, who was attacked in November 2010 at the Khamovnichesky court of Moscow, where the last review of his claim was by Vasily Yakimenko, head of the Federal Agency on Youth Affairs (RIA Novosti)

Kashin was a reporter for Russian business daily Kommersant who was attacked and badly beaten near his Moscow home in 2010. The investigation of the attack was put under special control by order of the president, but the perpetrators and their motives have not yet been established.

The victim himself suggested that the beating could have been ordered by the then-head of the government agency for youth affairs, Vasiliy Yakemenko, who wanted to punish him for critical coverage of certain youth movements. The official tried to sue Kashin for slander, but a Moscow magistrate refused to hear the lawsuit.

A portrait of Mikhail Beketov, editor-in-chief of Khimkinskaya Pravda (Khimki Truth) newspaper, after the farewell ceremony at the Central House of Journalists. (RIA Novosti)

In comments on the legislative initiative Kashin said that the move did not make sense.

You can pass as many of such laws as you want, but it is important to make them work,” he said, adding that the investigators had probably already forgotten about his existence and the case against the unknown attackers remains unsolved.

In February this year, regional MPs in the South Russian Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria suggested that federal parliament re-introduce the death penalty for those convicted of killing reporters. The call was made after the killing of Kazbek Gekkiyev – a correspondent who worked for the state television company Vesti KBR.

According to the Russian NGO Glasnost Defense Foundation, four journalists and media workers were killed throughout Russia in 2012 and over 90 reporters became victims of attacks while at work.