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Journalists In Daghestan Face New Threat

Khadjimurad Kamalov was shot dead in December 2011
Khadjimurad Kamalov was shot dead in December 2011
One year after the as yet unsolved murder of Khadjimurad Kamalov, editor of the crusading independent weekly “Chernovik,” Daghestan’s journalists face a new threat. One of the websites of the Daghestan wing of the North Caucasus insurgency has just posted a lengthy and rambling diatribe, accusing the republic’s journalists of lacking in both objectivity and professionalism in their coverage of the ongoing conflict. The author warns that they risk death if they continue to publish disparaging comments about Islam.

The article brands “the majority” of journalists, with the exception of “a few who serve as a worthy example,” as cowardly, meretricious, and covetous. It claims the media “work closely with the Russian security services,” distorting the concept of terrorism and providing flawed and inaccurate coverage of the ongoing low-level fighting. It provides examples in which the media unquestioningly cite fabricated official reports of the killing of alleged insurgents or support personnel.

The diatribe attributes that approach to a desire not to incur the displeasure of the republic’s leadership, in particular President Magomedsalam Magomedov, whom it blames for escalating the ongoing violence. In that context, it claims that “this year [the authorities] have deployed against us all imaginable armaments short of nuclear weapons.”

The article considers the journalistic shortcomings noted above to be minor, however, in comparison with disparaging comments about individual insurgents and suicide bombers and superficial discussion of the nature of jihad and other theological issues. The article warns that unnamed journalists have already incurred a death sentence for such writing, and warns the others to desist.

It could be argued that the blanket criticism of media coverage of the insurgency is unwarranted and unfair, given the thoughtful and informative articles that appear regularly on the pages of “Chernovik” and other publications. The weekly “Nastoyashchee vremya” was fined 10,000 rubles ($324.68) in April for publishing an article found by a Makhachkala court to be libelous that discussed the implications of the rumored receipt by Magomedov of a USB memory stick containing a warning from the insurgency.

On the one hand, the most recent warning duplicates those issued earlier, both in Daghestan and in Kabardino-Balkaria, to groups within the civilian population who are not actively engaged in fighting, but who either risk being caught up in it (hunters and shepherds), or who engage in activities considered reprehensible (faith-healers, necromancers, proprietors of bordellos and stores that sell alcohol). Hunters in both republics, for example, have been warned they can expect retribution if they report insurgents’ whereabouts and movements to the authorities. In that context, the warning affirms that providing verbal, actual, or material support to the “unbelievers” divests the provider of immunity from attack.

On the other hand, the insurgents’ stated intention to target journalists is at odds with the assertion early this year by self-styled Caucasus Emirate head Doku Umarov that the insurgency will no longer target Russian civilians in light of the burgeoning wave of discontent with the ruling regime in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Daghestan’s police and security forces espouse an equally negative perception of much of the journalistic community, but for very different reasons. First, they resent the hard-hitting and high-quality analysis of corruption and incompetence within the republican leadership which is one of the hallmarks of the local press. And second, they suspect some journalists of sympathizing with, and even abetting the insurgency. The “death list” circulated in Makhachkala in the late summer of 2009, which included the names of eight journalists (Kamalov’s among them), four lawyers, and four human rights activists, is widely believed to have been drawn up by a group within the police and security forces seeking to avenge the deaths of colleagues at the hands of the insurgents.

Some of Kamalov’s colleagues attribute the failure to solve his murder to the antipathy the Daghestani police harbor towards journalists in general. (The normal heavy police presence on the street where Kamalov was killed was inexplicably withdrawn on the evening of the murder.)

Kamalov’s brother, Magdi-Magomed, told a press conference in Moscow last week he is convinced the Daghestani authorities are sabotaging the murder investigation. He said unnamed Interior Ministry contacts told him in February that the killer had been identified. A request in May by 105 Russian State Duma deputies to Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin to take the Kamalov murder investigation under his personal control went unanswered.

Magdi-Magomed Kamalov, who succeeded his slain brother as owner of “Chernovik,” has since collected 120,000 signatures to an appeal addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking that he task Bastrykin and Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev with forming a special group to investigate and solve Kamalov’s murder.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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