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Russia: Two Dagestani Journalists Killed

Ilyas Shurpaev, a 32-year-old TV journalist and blogger (LJ user shurpaev), was found strangled in the apartment he was renting in Moscow Friday. (More detailed English-language media accounts of the murder are here.)

A native of Dagestan, Shurpaev had been based in Makhachkala until very recently, covering the Caucasus region for the state-owned Channel One. (A Sept. 2007 Global Voices translation featuring his observations on the situation in Ingushetia is here.) He transferred to Channel One's Moscow office a month ago.

Timur Aliev – LJ user timur_aliev, a journalist and Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov's aide – wrote this (RUS) about Shurpaev:

[...] He was an excellent guy – witty, communicative. Lots of fun stuff on his blog – yesterday, by the way, he wrote a lot there. We knew each other mainly through LJ. Though we did run into each other once in real life – at a seminar in [Nalchik]. And for the New Year's, he sent us some gifts, through friends from Makhachkala. It's been hardly a month since he moved to Moscow, and we were congratulating him in LJ on the new job location. He had been covering all kinds of things in his native Dagestan (explosions, terrorist acts, warfare) and nothing had happened to him. And in Moscow, he got killed…

Oleg Panfilov – LJ user oleg_panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situationswrote this (RUS):

Ilyas had a book in him. And, perhaps, even more than one. He was very talented, his blog was, I think, one of the best ones in my [feed]. I recommended it to many people, although sometimes I had a problem with his loose style and “salty” words…

Most likely, they attempted to rob him, but they didn't take his laptop. I don't think it was a work-related murder, because Ilyas was a rare journalist who did the most serious stories solidly and neutrally. Sometimes, when we got together in Makhachkala, we talked about propaganda, and Ilyas, who understood perfectly well what kind of place he was working at [state TV], was making it clear that he was trying hard to avoid propaganda cliches. And he was successful in doing that…

The following exchange on Shurpaev's professionalism (RUS) took place in the comments section to Panfilov's post:

z_ari_n:

[...] he… was… a good journalist. [...]

dinrid

Then what was he doing at Channel One if he was a good journalist? In Russia, it is now practically impossible to be an honest journalist if you don't have your work published in the oppositional mass media.

oleg_panfilov:

This opinion, of course, is legitimate, too, but, first, the oppositional media also frequently have problems with objectivity, and second, the number of honest journalists and “honest” media is not the same.

z_ari_n:

I'm sorry, but this doesn't mean anything. To be a good journalist, it's enough not to be a frenzied journalist. Basically, a good journalist can work practically anywhere, as long as [he/she] is considerate and diligent.

Here is a comment (RUS) Shurpaev made on March 3 about his work and the Russian presidential election, which took place the previous day:

Watched our programming yesterday. I'm so happy I'm here in Abkhazia now, on a work trip, and am not taking part in this bacchanalia. Thanks for your attention.

Shurpaev's last blog entry (RUS) has received much attention both in the Russian blogosphere and in the media. In it, he wrote that he'd been “blacklisted” by a Dagestani newspaper critical of the republic's president:

Here we go! I'm a [dissident] now! Not sure if I should laugh or cry. I already wrote here that there's a battle going on at one Dagestani paper between its journalists and founders. The latter, according to the journalists, wanted to use them as informational killers. The potential killers [the journalists] rebelled. But all this business is way too serious and I don't understand it. But here's what blew me away. The founders came up with a list of people who it's forbidden to publish in this paper, mention them or [...] even interact with them in the newspaper's building. And there I am, in the front row! Heading the list! The funniest thing is that I've never written anything subversive for this paper – only notes on my travels, in which I did not touch upon the political situation in Zimbabwe, but just describe where I'd been, what I'd eaten and who I'd seen. I haven't taken part in the political life of the republic [Dagestan] or even of my region, because I'm lazy and, in general, I had to go to the gym and take my daughter to the movies and to the playground. And then boom! Such a turn of events… Perpaps the [newspaper's] founders know something about me that I do not know myself? Maybe I should do the “suitcase-train station-Israel” thing, so as not to become a second [Khodorkovsky]? Anyways. Matilda [a frequent anonymous addressee of Shurpaev's blog postings]! Knit me some woolen socks. Just in case. The size is 43 1/2. [...]

Among other individuals on the newspaper's “black list” was Gadzhi Abashilov, head of Dagestan's state TV. Around 8 PM on Friday, Abashilov was shot dead in the republic's capital, Makhachkala.

Timur Aliev posted some thoughts (RUS) on this murder as well:

The second murder of a Dagestani journalist in two days – now, following Ilyas Shurpaev (in Moscow), Gadzhi Abashilov has been killed in Makhachkala.

I don't know whether these two murders are connected. But here's one version (I do not possess any insider information whatsoever). Abashilov was a pro-government journalist, a media bureaucrat – head of the “Dagestan” [State TV and Radio Company]. Ilyas [Shurpaev] could have also been perceived to have ties with the government – because he worked for [state-owned Channel One] – the main federal channel. Both were on some list of journalists who had been banned from being published and mentioned in an independent (and, lately, more of an oppositional) Dagestani newspaper. Thus, they were both identified more like pro-government people.

This leads to two conclusions (of course, only in case these two murders originate from the same source) – either the opposition is retaliating, or someone wants to compromise the opposition – namely, [Suleiman Kerimov] (who has been mentioned as the newspaper's sponsor). [...]

According to media reports on the ongoing investigation, the killings of Shurpaev and Abashilov are not connected.

  • http://www.mediarepublic.us Persephone Miel

    Excellent roundup about these tragedies. Thank you!

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