Outrage Over Russian Journalist’s Death

The world’s largest journalist’s group is urging the Russia to aggressively probe the circumstances surrounding the recent death of journalist Ivan Safronov, who according to news reports, was working a story about Russian weapons sales to Syria and Iran when he fell from a fifth-story window in Moscow last week.

“Journalists around the world are concerned that another colleague has fallen victim in Russia to people who use violence to silence journalists,” said Aidan White, general secretary of the Brussels based International Federation of Journalists, which on March 6 called on authorities to conduct “a thorough and transparent investigation.”

A similar statement was issued by the Vienna based International Press Institute, whose Director Johann Fritz said: “Journalists are killed in Russia every year due to their work and the impunity which accompanies these deaths causes great concern.”

Safronov, a former military colonel and a military affairs writer for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, had received threats “while gathering material for a report claiming Russia planned to provide sophisticated weapons to Syria and Iran,” according to The Associated Press, which drew from reports by Kommersant.

Russian prosecutors have opened an inquest into Safronov’s death, which occurred March 2. Here’s an excerpt from the AP story:

Kommersant reported that Safronov told his editors he would write a story about Russian plans to sell weapons to Iran and Syria via Belarus, but they said he had not yet submitted the article. Kommersant said Safronov recently told colleagues that he had been warned he would face a criminal investigation on charges of revealing state secrets if he reported allegations that Russia had struck a deal to supply highly advanced Iskander missiles to Syria. If confirmed, such a contract would upset the balance of forces in the Mideast and likely anger Israel and the United States.

Agence France-Presse, meanwhile, quoted Igor Yakovenko, secretary of the Russian journalists union (the SJR) as saying on Moscow Echo radio that it was clear Safronov’s death “was not suicide” and the chance it was murder “linked to the exercise of his profession are very high.”

AFP also cited Kommersant as reporting that, “two young students last week heard the noise of a falling body, saw Safronov lying on the snow and called an ambulance, which refused to come as it had ‘no time to go picking up every drunkard.'”

According to the reports, Safronov had told Kommersant editors he’d received information about the sale of Sukhoi-34 fighter jets to Syria and S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran via Belarus.

AFP cited a May 2006 report by the British defence magazine Jane’s about a contract for the sale of S-300 SP missiles from Russia to Belarus, with the aim of selling arms indirectly to Iran.

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