Reporters Without Borders is calling for a thorough investigation into the death of Olga Kotovskaya, a prominent journalist who apparently fell from the 14th floor of a building in the centre of Kaliningrad (the capital of a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania) six days after a court ruled that she had been unfairly stripped of the TV station she had created.
“Kotovskaya’s tragic and highly suspicious death needs a thorough and meticulous investigation,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It should possibly be assigned to a police department that does not come under the local authorities, whose role in her death is one of the elements that needs to be examined.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Impunity in the cases of murders of journalists is one of the most disturbing aspects of the media situation in Russia. The federal authorities should get involved in combating this problem as a matter of the utmost urgency.”
Kotovskaya died on 16 November, six days after a Kaliningrad arbitrage court ruled that in 2004 she had been unfairly stripped of her control of Kaskad, a TV station she created in the 1990s in which she owned 49 per cent of the shares. The court ruled that the document used to transfer control to new owners had been forged. Kaliningrad’s former vice-governor, Vladimir Pirogov is alleged to have been involved in the takeover.
Her family and colleagues and the Kaliningrad Union of Journalists all insist that it is impossible that this combative journalist, brilliant businesswoman and mother of two could have committed suicide just after winning a major legal battle. “No one in Kaliningrad believes that she killed herself,” said Novyie Kolessa editor Igor Rudnikov. She also had no reason to go to the building at the foot of which her body was found, he added.
Kotovskaya’s death recalls that of Ivan Safronov, a talented journalist employed by the newspaper Kommersant, who died in March 2007 after falling from the fifth floor of his Moscow apartment building. The police said it was suicide.
Claiming they have found no evidence that Kotovskaya was murdered, the Kaliningrad judicial authorities have nonetheless opened an investigation into the possibility of “incitement to suicide.”
Russia was ranked 153rd out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. At least 22 journalists have been killed in connection with their work since March 2000.