Nadezhda Azhgikhina: UNESCO Stop Impunity Day in Russia, 2016

posted 26 Oct 2016, 12:08 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Oct 2016, 12:23 ]
26 October 2016

By Nadezhda Azhgikhina, Secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, vice chair of the European Federation of Journalists

On 2 November 2016 the Russian Union of Journalists will hold a special event: an International Round Table, “Combating Impunity in the Digital Age,” at the Moscow Journalists’ Club (Dom Zhurnalista). Among the speakers will be RUJ president Vsevolod Bogdanov, head of the UN Information Centre in Moscow Vladimir Kuznetsov, and representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, of the Russian UNESCO Committee, of Glasnost Defence Foundation, and other experts and journalists. The roundtable will start with a special message from UNESCO Assistant General Director Frank La Rue and general information about the global landscape of the culture of impunity. 

Russian journalists have been calling for an effective fight against the culture of impunity for a long time. And the new UNESCO initiative could give energy and new possibilities to made this struggle more effective and finally destroy the culture of impunity that creates the basis for violence against journalists and blocks the development of free media in this country. Despite that fact that no media workers have been killed in Russia in 2015 and 2016 in connection with their profession, very few of the more than 360 deaths of journalists that have occurred since 1990 have ended in court following an effective investigation. Violence against journalists and attacks on their rights and on freedom of expression are still regular occurrences, and the offenders are not being brought to justice. 

The memorial list of 368 names includes those who have been killed, disappeared, or who died in unclear situations. The RUJ believes it is important to remember everybody. “It is our duty to find the truth about all of our deceased colleagues and to demand the investigation of all cases, and name all those responsible,” said RUJ President Vsevolod Bogdanov. “It is our duty to remember everybody”. 

In 1990 the RUJ established 15 December as the Day of Memory for journalists who have been killed. Today it is one of the most important dates in the professional calendar. Family members and colleagues of journalists who have lost their lives gather that day at the Moscow Journalists’ Club for a special memorial ceremony. Among them are the members of the Club of Children of Journalists Killed, the only one of its kind in the world, which was established by Vsevolod Bogdanov 20 years ago. Many of its members are working today as correspondents and stringers themselves. 15 December for Russian journalists is also a day to express solidarity and commitment to the struggle for free media and for the dignity of the profession, for truth, justice, the rule of law and for journalism as a public good. 

In combating impunity, Russian journalists have in mind other dates as well – 1 September, the day when 25 years ago the Russian TV team of Viktor Nogin and Gennady Kurinnoi were killed in Yugoslavia. Their colleague, the well-known TV journalist Vladimir Mukusev, has been investigating their death for many years, and today in Hrvatska Kostajnica there is a monument to the Russian journalists. A memorial plaque for Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead on 7 October 10 years ago and was awarded the Guillermo Cano award, is on the wall of the Novaya gazeta newspaper in Moscow where she worked. On 10 October journalists and readers gather there as well. And on 8 September, International Journalists’ Solidarity Day, the RUJ and the Moscow Conservatory also hold a memorial concert devoted to the memory of deceased colleagues, and make the Politkovskaya award. 

This year the RUJ and the youth theatre “Sketches in Space” (Eskizy v prostranstve) prepared a short play based on texts by Anna Politkovskaya and Yury Shchekochikhin, the guru of Russian investigative journalism and a prominent fighter against corruption who died in unclear circumstances in the middle of an investigation he was conducting in 2003.[1] The play “ The Journalist. A Life in One Second” was presented at the Moscow Journalists’ Club on 7 October and will be performed again in November to mark UNESCO Impunity day as well.

The most important thing is to raise the awareness of ordinary people, our audience, that combating impunity and protecting journalists’ rights and press freedoms are not only the business of journalists, but their own daily concern and the guarantee of their freedoms and of the development of our society. If people understood that, we would end the shameful culture of impunity in Russia and elsewhere.


[1] The author is the widow of Yury Shchekochikhin.