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Thursday, February 7, 2013
Global Toolbox

From Russia with regret

By Bruce C. Swaffield

He was young, only 28, and full of life. You can tell from the online pictures and videos that he loved his work as a broadcaster and was good at it.

At 9 p.m. Dec. 5, Kazbek Gekkiyev was shot three times in the head in North Caucasus, Russia. He collapsed and died on the spot. The two attackers got back in their car and drove away. Police say they have two suspects, both of whom are wanted for other crimes, but they have avoided capture during the past year.

As an anchor and reporter for the state-run channel VGTRK, Gekkiyev was on his way home from work when the incident occurred. The St. Petersburg Times said he “was talking with a female friend near his office when two unidentified men came out of a nearby car and approached him, Vesti television reported, citing unidentified relatives of the victim. The woman thought the men were Gekkiyev’s friends and walked a few meters away to let them talk.”

“The men asked the journalist whether he was the television anchor Kazbek Gekkiyev, and when Gekkiyev replied that he was, they fired at him, according to the Vesti report.” Vesti is the regional evening show that Gekkiyev anchored.

“Colleagues were reported as saying they did not understand the motive for the killing,” according to Reuters. The Georgia Times said, “Lyudmila Kazancheva told the website Vesti.ru that Gekkiyev had not been the author of any acute or crime story. He worked as an announcer reading the news, prepared by the journalists. ‘He was a smiling, cheerful guy who has not done anything bad to anyone in his life. His death is a shock to the whole team.’”

According to The New York Times, a federal official investigating the death said “the attack appeared to be ‘a warning to other journalists’ who were involved in news coverage about the government’s campaign against insurgents.” Sources say Islamic militants in the area have made and carried out threats against journalists and government officials.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke out against the killing. Speaking to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, he said, “Unfortunately, in our country we have once again been confronted with a very harsh and obnoxious crime — the murder of a human being.

“Perhaps the most important human right, the right to life, has been violated. And it looks like one more right, the right to information, has also been violated as a journalist has been killed. A young person, he was very promising and greatly loved by television audiences. All of this makes us ponder again how efficient our work of protecting essential human rights is.”

Both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the attack. “It is vital that there should be an end to the impunity surrounding crimes against those who work in news and information in the Russian Caucasus,” RSF said in a statement on its website.

CPJ spokeswoman Nina Ognianova said, “Journalists must never face violence — or murder — for their work, and those crimes must never remain unpunished. We call on Russian authorities to stop the impunity in this and the 16 other unsolved killings of journalists in the country over the past decade.” Russia is the “ninth worst nation in the world for combating anti-press deadly violence,” according to the organization’s Impunity Index.

CPJ added that there have been at least six unsolved deaths of journalists in this same region around Kabardino-Balkaria in the past decade.

The television station where Gekkiyev was employed produced a poignant and moving six-minute tribute to him. Scenes from his life are put to music following a brief introduction in Russian.

There is extreme concern about the ongoing violence in North Caucasus because the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, about 275 miles from Nalchik, where Gekkiyev was gunned down.

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