Saturday, 16 June 2012

Novaya Gazeta accuses top investigator of death threats

The editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta has accused Russia’s top investigator of driving the newspaper’s deputy editor into a secluded forest outside Moscow and threatening him over a critical article. In an open letter on the newspaper’s website, Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov accuses Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin of threatening his deputy, Sergei Sokolov, with death over comments he made in a recent article. “The brutal truth is that you roughly threatened the life of my deputy, and even managed to joke about the fact that you would be the one carrying out the investigation into the murder,” According to the letter, Bastrykin invited Sokolov to fly with him in his private jet to a meeting in the south Russian city of Nalchik earlier this month. At the meeting, Bastrykin demanded an apology from Sokolov for his recent criticism of the investigator’s handling of a case against Sergei Tsepovyaz, who was found guilty of covering up a massacre of 12 people in Krasnodar region but let off with paying a 150,000 ruble ($4,500) fine. The letter says the threats took place after the two men had flown back to Moscow. Sokolov was allegedly transported by security guards from the plane to a forest clearing, where he was left alone and confronted by Bastrykin. Muratov calls in the letter for Bastrykin to guarantee the safety of Novaya Gazeta staff, saying he would publish the investigator’s reply. The journalist says Bastrykin refused to hold a face-to-face meeting with Novaya Gazeta’s editorial board. Muratov later told Business FM that Sokolov had temporarily left Russia to ensure his safety and that he would return only when the newspaper receives a guarantee of his safety. “If we do not receive an answer, or the answer denies that this event took place, we will look into different ways to secure justice, either by turning to the law enforcement agencies or to the president,” Muratov told the radio station. Bastrykin and others at the Investigative Committee said they were unable to comment to the media, although a press spokesman told Izvestia that “everything would become clear.” The Investigative Committee is an influential body that reports directly to President Vladimir Putin, a former university classmate of Bastrykin’s. Representatives of the Public Chamber told Ekho Moskvy radio station that the body may take the case to the Prosecutor General’s Office, adding that there may not be enough evidence to initiate an investigation. Analysts gave mixed views on what the incident means for either the security services or media freedom. Ludmila Narusova, the head of the Federal Council’s committee on science, culture and information policy, told Ekho Moskvy it could be a sign that the security services are putting increasing pressure on the media.

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