Russian censorship: from the barrel of a gun

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Some disturbing news in the Globe and Mail today- 13 Russian journalists have been murdered in the past decade, and none of the cases have been solved.

This alarming statistic comes from the Committee to Protect Journalists. The murders include the brutal slaying of Anna Politkovskaya, a crusading reporter gunned down in her apartment buidling. She was an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin's government, particularly its conduct of the war in Chechnya.

So who's doing the shooting? The answer is entirely unclear, but likely lies somewhere in the shadowy nexus of authoritarianism and organized crime that characterizes modern politics in Russia.

"Whenever someone follows the path of money, they get stopped," says Nina Ognianova of the CPJ.  

There also seems to be an unwillingness to investigate crimes against journalists in Russia. Andrei Kalitin was shot last June, after writing a book probing the mafia domination of the Russian aluminum industry. He survived the attack, but his assailant is still at large.

"[The Police] wouldn't open a criminal case on a contract murder because I wasn't shot dead," said Kalitin.

The brutal silencing of Russian journalists is just another example- albeit a particularly bloody one- of Russia's slow slide away from democracy. A nation that does not protect the freedom of expression of its citizens cannot hope to have a free and open political system. And if your country is also overrun by violent criminals, then the prospects are even worse.

Photo: Slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya