Moscow shaken by killing of television journalist

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The Independent Online

A Russian television journalist has been found dead in his flat in Moscow only hours after posting a blog entry on his website in which he joked that he had become a dissident.

Ilyas Shurpayev had reported from all the most dangerous parts of Russia, including Chechnya and his native Dagestan, but he was killed in his own apartment in the Russian capital. Police said he had been strangled to death; he was found with a belt around his neck and multiple knife wounds.

Neighbours reported a fire at about 2am yesterday, and on arrival the fire brigade discovered the body. It is believed a fire had been started in an attempt to cover up the crime. The police said the murder was most likely linked to "personal issues", but that they were also considering the possibility that it was linked to Mr Shurpayev's work.

"It's difficult to imagine someone working for the First Channel [state-run television] would be killed for their work," said Oleg Panfilov, of the Moscow-based Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations. "I can't remember any of his material that could have led to this, and I think it's more likely to be about personal reasons."

A concierge in Mr Shurpayev's apartment building told Russian media the journalist had asked her to let in two people to visit him late on Thursday evening, which suggests that he knew his attackers.

Mr Shurpayev had worked out of Dagestan for several years and only moved to Moscow in February. Mr Panfilov said he had spent the past month finding an apartment and getting used to the capital. "We spoke quite often and I'm sure if he'd felt he was under any threat due to his work he would have told me about it," he said.

More than a dozen journalists have been killed in Russia in contract-style killings since President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000 and cases are rarely brought to court.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Russia as the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists to work in. Those targeted are usually strident opponents of the authorities, such as Anna Politkovskaya, or involved in investigative reporting rooting out corruption or abuses of power.

Mr Shurpayev does not seem to fit into either of these categories. He had reported from across Russia's restive North Caucasus and from Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but his work was not controversial and he was not known for investigative reporting. His last report to appear on the First Channel's news was about the restoration of a monastery in Abkhazia.

However, suspicions will be raised by an entry that Mr Shurpayev posted on his personal blog just before 4pm on Thursday. He wrote that a newspaper in Dagestan had put him on a blacklist of people that could not be published. He expressed amazement at the decision, writing that he could not believe he had been labelled a dissident.

Just before 7pm he logged into Odnoklassniki, a popular social networking site. Just a few hours later he was found dead.

Was the final blog a fatal move?

www.shurpayev.livejournal.com posted 20 March at 3.49pm Moscow time.

'Hello, Sakharov – I'm a dissident! Well, I made it! Now I'm a dissident! Don't know whether to laugh or cry. I already wrote here that at a Dagestani newspaper there's a battle going on between the journalists and the founders. But all of this is far too serious and I don't really understand it. Here's what blows me away. The founders produced a list of people who it's forbidden to publish in the paper. You can't refer to them or even ... sorry, speak to them inside the walls of the editorial office. And there I am, right in the front row! At the top of the list!

I have never taken part in the political life of the republic [Dagestan] or even of my region, because I'm lazy ... Maybe I should do a "suitcases, train-station, off-to-Israel" turn so as not to become a second Khodorkovsky! Anyway. Matilda! Knit me some woollen socks. Just in case. My size is 43 and a half.'

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