Proposed bill aims to make lives of journalists safer

On Wednesday, July 10, a bill toughening the penalty for offenses against journalists was
introduced in the lower house of the Russian parliament. It appeared one day
after 53-year-old political journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev was shot dead by
unidentified persons. Akhmednabiev was working for the local Novoye Delo
newspaper in the Northern Caucasian Republic of Dagestan. There had also been an
attempt on his life in January of this year.


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If the bill becomes a law, the punishment
for violence against a journalist will be the same as that for violence against
a public official. The maximum penalty for non-life-threatening violence and
threats of violence against a journalist (motivated by his/her professional activities)
or his/her relatives will be five years in prison. In addition, acts of
life-threatening violence could bring a 10-year prison sentence.

The list of aggravating circumstances will
be expanded to include the clause, “in connection with the victim’s
professional activities,” in addition to official activities and execution of
public duty.

“Only [public] service activities are
mentioned in the criminal code, whereas this is an issue of professional
activities,” says one of the initiative’s authors, Duma deputy Mikhail Serdyuk of
the  social-democratic Just Russia
party. “If you are a writer or editor working in public service and write an
article, no one will come after you; God forbid they come. When someone is
lying in wait by your house, and even if that person is caught and a court is
considering the case, he would simply say he didn’t like you, rather than admit
that it was politically motivated. ‘Professional activity’ is a broader term.”

Russian journalism

The purpose of this bill, in Serdyuk’s
words, is “to make the lives and activities of journalists safer.” At the same
time, in his opinion, the initiative will work only on one condition: if the
offender can be certain in the inevitability of the punishment. “[Otherwise,]
give him 100 years in prison—it’s all the same to him,” says Serdyuk.

Serdyuk believes the authorities should
send a clear signal that they are not indifferent to journalists’ safety, and
that they will do everything they can to prevent crimes against journalists
from occurring.

“We can do the part of this job that we
have to do,” Serdyuk says. “As for the second part, it has to be the political
will of the president, the head of the Investigative Committee, and the
minister of the interior.”

Leading Russian lawyer and head of Russia’s
Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, claims that the initiative
by Serdyuk (an economist by training) and his colleague at the State Duma, Valery
Trapeznikov (a machinist with 50 years of experience), is superfluous and

oleg kashin

Journalist brutally beaten in central Moscow

“The Criminal Code includes Article 144 [‘Interference
with journalists’ lawful, professional activities,’ which the bill aims to
expand], which in its third part clearly connects interference with journalists’
lawful professional activities with violence and threats thereof, and has
established therefore the quite serious punishment of a six-year prison
sentence,” says Fedotov. “What [these] deputies are proposing to do would
duplicate what is already there.”

According to Fedotov, prosecution according
to Article 144’s current wording does not distinguish between times during
which an attack on a journalist takes place. “One doesn’t have to assault a
journalist while he’s sitting at his computer. What matters is the connection
between the assault and his professional activities,” says Fedotov.

“If a
journalist is injured in a fight in a liquor store, for example, there is no
connection between [the injuries] and his professional activities. Whoever
attacked him did not [necessarily] have the slightest idea that they were
attacking a journalist.”

The head of the Russian Union of
Journalists, Vsevolod Bogdanov, contends that the problem lies in the low clearance
rate of crimes against journalists. “What good is this law if no one can find
the criminals in the first place?”

Russian journalism

As Bogdanov notes, in July 2012, the
Russian Union of Journalists held a visiting session with representatives of
local law-enforcement agencies in Dagestan. In terms of journalists’ safety, the
North Caucasus is regarded as one of the most problematic Russian regions.

“The conversation was long,” says Bogdanov.
“Ultimately, the police chiefs assured us that they would come to Moscow in six
months and bring data on investigations of the murders of journalists with
them. Six months passed, but no one came. We did not receive the results of any

According to Bogdanov, the Russian Union of
Journalists independently assists the 300 families of the journalists killed in
Russia in the past 15 years.


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Bogdanov adds that he appreciates any initiative
that may contribute to improving the social status of journalists. “But nothing
is working out at the moment,” he says.

Bogdanov claims that the Russian Union of
Journalists has repeatedly sent its own suggestions to the Russian parliament,
but they have never gained traction. When asked whether the authors of the new
bill consulted him, Bogdanov says no.

Serdyuk, in turn, says, “If there are any
additional arguments, I am willing to listen.”

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