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(Moscow) – Russian authorities should conduct a sufficiently thorough investigation to identify the killers of a prominent Dagestani journalist and hold them to account. 

Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev, who died of multiple gunshot wounds on July 9, 2013, was deputy chief editor of a leading independent weekly in Dagestan, Novoe Delo (New Action). He was also a regular contributor to the Caucasian Knot online portal and other media outlets. Akhmednabiev is the second journalist covering counterinsurgency issues murdered in less than two years in Dagestan.

“For many years Akhmednabiev courageously reported on abuses and lawlessness in Dagestan, Russia’s most intense hot spot,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch. “His brazen murder cannot but relate to his work in journalism.”

Russia should abide by its pledge to ensure full accountability for attacks on journalists and foster a normal working climate for independent media and human rights defenders in the region, Human Rights Watch said.

The morning killing took place next to the journalist’s home in the village of Semender, near the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala. Akhmednabiev had just started the engine of his car when the unidentified assailants opened fire. He died instantly. A criminal investigation is under way.

On January 11, unidentified assailants shot at Akhmednabiev three times but missed. He had received death threats in May 2012 and immediately reported them to police. Law enforcement authorities did not effectively investigate either the threats or the subsequent shooting. Akhmednabiev’s lawyer, Abdurashid Sheikhov, told Caucasian Knot that the murder would not have occurred if not for the “negligence of the entire law enforcement system.”

The attack is starkly reminiscent of the killing of Gadzhimurad Kamalov, founder and publisher of another Dagestani newspaper, Chernovik, which was well known for its editorial independence and investigative reporting. A masked gunman showered Kamalov with bullets on December 15, 2011, next to Chernovik’s office in Makhachkala. The investigation into his murder has yielded no tangible results.

“The authorities’ indifference to the killings of journalists and whistleblowers perpetuates impunity and inspires new attacks,” Lokshina said. “The North Caucasus region is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world, and it is no wonder, if law enforcement authorities aren’t doing their job.”   

In September 2009, leaflets appeared in Makhachkala with death threats against eight local journalists, including both Akhmednabiev and Kamalov, as well as four lawyers and four human rights activists in Dagestan. The anonymous authors called for the “exterminat[ion of] bandits [and their alleged consorts] and vengeance for [killed] policemen.” At the time, Akhmednabiev and Kamalov indicated they had no doubt that “the special services” were behind that list.

The investigation officials in charge of Akhmednabiev’s case have already acknowledged that one of their main theories is that he was targeted because of his reporting. Russia’s Investigation Committee, the state agency in charge of criminal investigation, took the investigation into Akhmednabiev’s murder under special control. 

“Russian authorities have made repeated promises to prosecute and prevent attacks on journalists, including in the North Caucasus,” Lokshina said. “But they have a long way to go to show that ‘special control’ means something more than window dressing, and that killers can be brought to account.”

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