Top journalist murdered in Russia's Dagestan: official

16th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A gunman in Russia's troubled Caucasus region of Dagestan shot dead a leading journalist who founded a newspaper known for fearless criticism of the local authorities, officials said Friday.

Khadzhimurad Kamalov, the founder of the Dagestan weekly newspaper Chernovik and the director of its publisher Svoboda Slova (Freedom of Speech), was riddled with bullets in the main city Makhachkala, investigators said.

A gunman shot him dead with a pistol as he was coming out of the offices of the publisher at around midnight, the Russian Investigative Committee said in a statement.

"The victim died on the way to hospital from multiple gunshot wounds," it said, adding a criminal case had been opened into the murder.

Kamalov was the founder of Chernovik, which has been published since 2003 and won a reputation for its bold criticism of the local authorities.

"He was the soul of a publication that was unique in Russia," Oleg Orlov, the head of the Memorial rights group told AFP. "This is an attempt to silence this voice by those who did not like such an independent voice."

The journalist had become known in particular for his criticism of the Dagestan interior ministry and had carried out investigations of unsolved "disappearances" of people blamed on criminal groups.

"It cannot be excluded that Kalamov was killed because of his work," the Investigative Committee said.

Dagestan, a Muslim Caspian Sea region known for its ancient culture and tapestry of ethnic groups, is fighting an insurgency by militants seeking to establish an Islamic state across the Russian Caucasus.

Several of Chernovik's staffers risked jail earlier this year after being charged with inciting hate against the security forces after criticising their tactics against Islamist militants.

However they were acquitted in May, in a ruling hailed as a rare victory for press freedom. Kalamov himself had been accused of extremism for daring to quote a militant leader in an article.

Chernovik journalist Biyakai Magomedov, who witnessed the killing, told NTV television that the crime was aimed at scaring the newspaper into silence.

"These corrupted structures are scared of us and they could not defeat us in court. I believe that the murder in front of the editorial office was done especially to intimidate the staff," he said.

He said the killer had put a succession of bullets into Kalamov but his colleague had fought for his life until the very last moment.

"When the killer fired at him Khadzhimurad fell down and the killer tried to finish him off. But he was so courageous. Even then, he tried to grab the killer by the leg to throw him down. But he did not succeed."

"The whole scene I saw lasted five seconds."

The ITAR-TASS news agency said the newspaper had repeatedly been the target of legal proceedings by the authorities and at one point every single printing press in Dagestan refused to print it.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described his murder as a "lethal blow to press freedom"

"The assassination is a massive loss for independent journalism in the North Caucasus, Russia's most dangerous place for reporters," its Europe and Central Asia coordinator Nina Ognianova said.

It said the newspaper's journalists had in the past been "routinely persecuted for their work" and said the paper was known for exposing corruption in the regional administration.

His murder follows the killing earlier this year in Makhachkala of Maksud Sadikov, a leading university professor in Dagestan who criticised radical Islamists.

© 2011 AFP

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