April 21, 2024

Press Freedom

Russian Federation

Russia July 8, 2005

H.E. Vladimir Putin
The Kremlin
Russian Federation
Fax: ( 011.7.095) 206-6277/ 5173

Your Excellency:

In the brief two weeks since we last wrote you, three troubling abuses of press freedom in Russia have come to our attention. We urge you to reflect on them and do everything in your power to expose the truth, punish the perpetrators — and where needed — to amend the law that gives rise to abuses.

The first case is the apparent denouement of the mysterious disappearance on June 29, 2004, of Maxim Maximov , an investigative journalist with the St. Petersburg weekly magazine, Gorod. The St. Petersburg police have reportedly confirmed an Interfax report that three police officials hired two contract killers to assassinate Maximov to prevent him from publishing information about their illegal activities. Interfax reported that the three officials, Mikhail Smirnov, deputy head of the department responsible for investigating official corruption, along with investigators Lev Pyatov and Andrei Bochurov, have been detained on charges of falsifying evidence in several cases, but so far have not been charged with Maximov’s murder. The sooner the details of this connection are spelled out, the better, and it is our hope that if the reports prove true, Smirnov, Pyatov and Bodhurov will be given a public trial exposing all the evidence in Maximov’s murder.

The second troubling case is the murder on June 28, 2005, of Magomedzagid Varisov , a prominent journalist and political analyst, who was assassinated contract-style in Makhachkala , capital of the Russian republic of Dagestan . According to Reuters, the Islamic militant group Shariat has boasted of the killing, and if that is true, your government of course bears no blame for the actual murder. However, Varisov, who wrote political anaysis for Novoye Delo , Dagestan ‘s largest weekly, had complained for the past year that he had received threats and been followed by people he didn’t know. He had tried in vain to get protection from law enforcement agencies in Makhachkala . We urge Your Excellency to make clear to police at all levels in Russia that journalists with well-founded fear of retribution for their writings should get every possible measure of protection.

Finally, we were shocked to learn that Edouard Abrosimov , a free-lance journalist, was sentenced to seven months of forced labor on June 22, 2005, for what was called slander in an article whose editor had deleted the accusation before publication. Abrosimov was being investigated for an unrelated charge of slander when police discovered in his computer the early draft of an article, submitted to the newspaper Saratov SP, which accused Dmitry Petryaikin, an official in the regional prosecutor’s office, of accepting a $2,000 bribe to drop a case. When the article was published, the charge had been deleted. But the prosecutor argued that as soon as one person — the editor of the article — had read the accusation, slander had been committed. If this is in fact the law, we urge you to take the lead in amending it to repeal this absurdity. But far more important, we insist that libel and slander are offenses that should be punished only by civil courts, never as criminal offenses. If journalists are to be threatened with prison for repeating allegations that turn out to be unfounded, investigative journalism comes to an end, and your people will be left in the dark about many abuses that should be exposed. We ask you to take the lead in changing Russia ‘s criminal code to make libel and slander civil offenses.

Thank you for your attention. We would appreciate a reply.

Respectfully yours,
Larry Martz
Norman Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee

cc: Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov

Prime Minister

Government Offices

2 Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya


Russian Federation

Fax: (011.7.095) 206-4622


Igor Ivanov

Foreign Minister

Moscow 121200

Russian Federation

Fax: (011.7.095) 230-21


Yuriy Victorovich Ushakov

Ambassador of Russia to the U.S.A.

Embassy of the Russian Federation

2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW

Washington , DC 20007

Fax: (202) 298-5735


Ambassador Andrey Ivanovich Denisov

Permanent Representative

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

136 East 67 th Street

New York , NY 10021

Fax: (212) 628-0252


Aleksey K. Simonov


Glasnost Defence Foundation

4 Zubovskiy Boulevard, #432

Moscow 119021


Fax: (011.7.095) 201-4947

E-mail: simonov@gdf.ru


Alexander R. Vershbow

Ambassador of the U.S. to Russia

Embassy of the United States of America

8 Bolshoy Devyatinskiy Pereulok

Moscow 121099


Fax: (011.7.095) 728-5090


Lynn Berry


The Moscow Times

16 Vyborgskaya Street , Building 4
Moscow 125212

Tel./Fax: (011.7.095) 937-3393

E-mail: l.berry@imedia.ru


Vadim Gorshenim



Fax: (011.7.095) 925-2161


Robin Munro


St. Petersburg Times

4 Isakiyevskaya Square

Tel./Fax: (011.7.812) 325-6080

E-mail: munro@sptimes.ru


Vladimir A. Borodin



18 Tverskaya Street , Building 1

Moscow 127994


Fax: (011.7.095) 514-0223

E-mail: alekseeva@izvestia.ru


Aleksander V. Stukalin


Kommersant Daily

4 Vrubelya Street



Fax: (011.7.095) 943-9728

E-mail: kommersant@kommersant.ru


Tatyana Petrovna Koshkaryova


Nezavisimaya Gazeta

13 Myasnitskaya Street , Building 3



Fax: (011.7.095) 981-5434

E-mail: office@ng.ru


Pavel N. Gusev


Moskovskiy Komsomolets

7 Ulitsa 1905 Goda

Moscow 123995


Fax: (011.7.095) 259-4639

E-mail: berestovenko@mk.ru


Tatyana Gennadyevna Lysova



16 Vyborgskaya Street

Moscow 125212


Fax: (011.7.095) 956-0716

E-mail: vedomosti@imedia.ru


Dmitriy A. Muratov


Novaya Gazeta

3 Potapovskiy Pereulok

Moscow 101990


Fax: (011.7.095) 923-6888

E-mail: gazeta@novayagazeta.ru