Putin Criticised As 15th Journalist Killed

The Statesman, India
July 20 2004

Putin Criticised As 15th Journalist Killed

The Times, London
MOSCOW, July 20. – The voice at the end of the telephone line was
muffled but menacing. `You should be careful what you write,’ the man
said, without giving his name. `Something could happen to you as you
walk on the street.’ Then the line went dead. The threat, made to The
Times several weeks ago, was most likely a hoax from one of the
desperate, disillusioned or mentally disturbed individuals often
calling foreign reporters’ offices here.
But it seems suddenly chilling after the gangland-style killing of
Paul Khlebnikov, editor of Forbes magazine’s Russian edition, on 9
July and the murder of Pail Peloyan, an Armenian reporter, at the
weekend.
It also emerged last week that a reporter in St Petersburg, Mr Maxim
Maximov, had been missing since 1 July. The three cases have not only
sent a chill through a press corps, but have also exposed the dark
side of President Putin’s Russia and raised questions about its
future direction.
The UN ranks Russia the world’s 57th-best country to live in, but an
international media watchdog rates it as one of the ten worst places
to be a journalist – alongside Iraq, Cuba, Zimbabwe and the West
Bank.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists says that Khlebnikov –
an American citizen – was the fifteenth journalist to be killed in
connection with his work in Russia since Mr Putin took power. Many
human rights groups and reporters accuse Mr Putin of indirectly
encouraging such attacks through his own crackdown on the independent
media.
Mr Putin made clear his personal disdain for reporters at a news
conference in 2002, when he suggested that a French reporter
questioning the Chechnya war should come to Moscow to be circumcised
`so you’ll have nothing growing back afterwards’.

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