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In Wake Of Killings, Russian Newspaper Wants To Arm Journalists

People lay flowers and light candles at the site where Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov were killed.
People lay flowers and light candles at the site where Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov were killed.
The management of the liberal opposition newspaper "Novaya gazeta" has a message for the Russian government: If you are not able to defend our journalists, you must allow them to defend themselves.

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, one of the weekly's primary shareholders, Aleksandr Lebedev -- a former KGB intelligence officer making additional news this week because of his purchase of Britain's "Evening Standard" paper -- announced that "Novaya gazeta" has appealed to the authorities to allow its journalists to carry weapons.

"I think that the FSB [Federal Security Service] and other law enforcement agencies are not carrying out their responsibilities regarding what is happening with 'Novaya gazeta,'" Lebedev said. "So we have officially submitted documents requesting the right to carry weapons."

Lebedev's announcement came three days after "Novaya gazeta" reporter Anastasia Baburova and prominent attorney Stanislav Markelov were shot dead in the Russian capital after leaving a press conference.

"Novaya gazeta" says Baburova is the paper's fourth journalist to be killed in the past decade.

In July 2000, Igor Domnikov died months after being attacked in the entrance way to his Moscow apartment building by an assailant who struck him on the head repeatedly with a heavy object.

In July 2003, Yury Shchekochikhin -- who was investigating the possible involvement of the Russian security services in a series of apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities in 1999 -- died after a mysterious illness. The case has never been ruled a murder, but colleagues say Shchekochikhin died as a result of poisoning, and that his death was connected to his work.

And in the most infamous case, Anna Politkovskaya, who covered abuses by Russian forces against civilians in Chechnya, was shot and killed in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building in October 2006.

Sergei Sokolov, the editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta," told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service said he supported Lebedev's initiative. "We think that if the state cannot defend us, then we need to defend ourselves," he said. "I don't see another option."

According to Freedom House, a rights watchdog, 16 Russian journalists have been killed in contract-style assassinations since 2000, and many more are attacked every year. The cases seldom result in successful prosecutions.

Guns Not The Answer

Despite these grim statistics, press-freedom advocates say arming journalists is not the answer.

Anna Politkovskaya was killed outside her home in Moscow.
Lebedev's announcement is "a sign of how anxious and worried people are," says Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, but he adds that arming journalists would be counterproductive.

"This is stupidity. Defending people from criminals is the obligation of the state, not journalists," Panfilov says. "It's difficult to imagine how a journalist who is attacked by a professional assassin can mount an effective [armed] resistance."

Some journalists at "Novaya gazeta" also oppose the idea of carrying weapons.

Vyacheslav Izmailov, who served 27 years in the military and has covered numerous armed conflicts for the weekly, tells RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that he won't carry a weapon as a reporter under any circumstances.

"I am personally against this. Others can carry weapons, I won't. I didn't have weapons [covering the war] in Chechnya," Izmailov says. "I have covered armed conflicts and didn't carry weapons."

Russian law currently forbids private citizens to carry weapons except in special cases when permission is granted by law enforcement bodies.

RFE/RL's North Caucasus and Russian and services contributed to this report

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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