Reporters Without Borders is saddened to learn that Yakhya Magomedov, the young editor of the Avar-language version of a bi-monthly magazine that promotes a moderate vision of traditional Islam, was gunned down in northern Dagestan on 8 May.
“We offer our condolences to Magomedov’s relatives and colleagues and we urge the authorities not to leave his death unpunished,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This case must be solved and the murderers must be brought to justice. Conditions are tough for journalists in the Russian Caucasus. Many are threatened and harassed, especially in Dagestan, where violence and impunity reign.
“Threats are often carried out and those responsible are rarely punished. The murders of three journalists in the Russian Caucasus – Magomed Yevloyev, Magomedsharif Sultanmagomedov and Abdulmalik Ahmedilov – have never been punished.”
The press freedom organization added: “The serious investigation into the January 2009 murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova in Moscow has raised hopes that an end to impunity in Russia may be in sight. It is up to the local and federal authorities to prove that the Caucasus will not be abandoned to its fate.”
Magomedov was shot four times as he was leaving his brother’s home in Kokrek, near the northern city of Khasavyurt, at around 10:30 pm. The police are treating the case as one of murder and illegal use of firearms but they are working on the assumption that Magomedov was killed by mistake and that the intended target was his brother, a police officer. Several analysts nonetheless point out that the anti-Wahhabi views of Magomedov’s magazine, As-Salam, may have aroused the anger of Muslim fundamentalists. Journalists advocating a “peaceful Islam” have been the targets of recent attacks and Magomedov may have been another victim of their calls for violence. One observer told Reporters Without Borders that government officials may have also have been upset by the magazine’s coverage of corruption.
“The investigation must not neglect any hypothesis,” Reporters Without Borders added. “It is way too soon to rule out the possibility that the motive was related to the victim’s work as a journalist.”
Published in Russian and six Caucasian languages and distributed by volunteers, As-Salam deals above all with Islamic beliefs and practices and has a print run of 90,000 copies. It is published by an organization called the Spiritual Leadership of the Muslims in Dagestan, which has other media that promote the same moderate version of Islam.
Magomed Rasul, the organization’s president, told Reporters Without Borders: “Yakhya was the victim of the extremism and terrorism that we condemn. We have lost a conscientious, talented and sociable employee. Regardless of who was responsible for his murder, he has left a young wife and two young children.”
Magomedov had worked as a journalist for several years and was preparing a collection of his articles to be published in book form. Demonstrations are planned to protest against his murder and demand an end to impunity in Dagestan.
His murder came a week after Magomed Khanmagomedov, a correspondent for the independent weekly Chernovik, was physically attacked when he went to the site of the demolition of a UNESCO-classified building in Derbent, a city in southern Dagestan. The police are not investigating the attack although Khanmagomedov recognized his assailants.
Biyakai Magomedov, a lawyer who works as a journalist for Chernovik, told Reporters Without Borders: “The murders and attacks on journalists continue in Dagestan and not one has been solved. There is total impunity. If this goes on, journalists will stop working altogether.”
The Russian Caucasus has been prey to violence since the start of the 1990s and the war in Chechnya. A low-intensity war between security forces, private militias and Wahhabi militants subsequently spread from Chechnya to neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan. Relative calm has returned of late to Ingushetia but there has been a marked deterioration in the climate in Dagestan. The federal authorities insist that normality has been restored but an undeclared war continues and civilians, including journalists, are the leading victims.
(Map and picture : RFE/RL, RIA Novosti)