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Human Rights Watch has stated that the investigation led by Russian authorities into the murder of Gadzhimurad Kamalov must be timely, thorough, and bring the guilty party to justice.
The founder and publisher of Chernovik, Dagestan’s leading independent weekly newspaper, was murdered around midnight on Dec. 15, 2011, in Makhachkala, the capital city of Dagestan. Kamalov was working late that night and had left his office to attend to a visitor when a gunman wearing a mask fired 14 bullets at him. The gunman and the accomplices fled the scene in two separate cars, according to the police reports, and Kamalov died while on the way to the hospital.
In Russia, Dec. 15 is a day of commemoration for the journalists that were murdered because of the work they had done. “This is a tremendous blow for the independent press in Dagestan,” stated Tanya Lokshina, senior Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There is hardly any doubt that Kamalov was killed because he was doing his job, in a region that is now known as Russia’s most unstable.”
Gadzhimurad Kamalov founded the weekly newspaper in 2003. He was the paper’s chief editor in 2005-2006 and remained as its publisher. Chernovik became increasingly popular and was known for its investigative reports, editorial independence, and its coverage of controversial topics like human rights abuses and corruption by government agencies. The journalists for the newspaper have been threatened and harassed repeatedly. Four journalists and Nadira Isaeva, the chief editor during that time, were even charged and prosecuted for extremism and slighting government officials. They were eventually acquitted by a court in Makhachkala in the summer of 2011.
In 2010, Isaeva had received the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Jounalists. However, she left the newspaper last summer, after an anonymous online campaign targeted her. Isaeva believes that local security officials were behind it. In 2009, leaflets with death threats towards human rights activists, lawyers, and journalists, including Kamalov, appeared in the capital city of Dagestan. They were by unknown authors that wanted, “exterminat[ion of] bandits and vengeance for [killed] policemen.” Kamalov believed that the security services were the ones that wrote the leaflets.
The North Caucasus region of Russia is one of the most dangerous areas for journalists in the world. The Russian leadership has promised to stop the persecution of journalists and activists, but the attacks and murders still continue. The government body that is investigating Kamalov’s murder has said that one of their main theories is that he was killed because of the work he did for Chernovik. Human Rights Watch wants to make sure that Russian authorities do all they can to bring the criminals to justice. “It’s good that the official investigation recognizes that Kamalov could have been targeted because he did his job, but too many investigations into killings like these in the North Caucasus have led nowhere,” Lokshina said.