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Russian journalist warned by anonymous text messages to stop reporting

New York, July 18, 2017. Russian authorities should investigate threatening messages that business reporter Rinat Sagdiyev said he has received, and ensure the journalist’s safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Sagdiyev, a correspondent for the national business daily Vedomosti, said on Facebook that he received several anonymous threatening text messages from one phone number on the morning of July 16, Russian media reported. The Moscow-based journalist said he believes the threats were linked to his investigative reporting on the state oil company Rosneft, reports said.

“Russia has a history of threats against journalists being followed by violent action,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Russian authorities should swiftly and efficiently investigate the threats against Rinat Sagdiyev and guarantee that journalists can report safely on matters of public interest.”

Vladimir Rumyantsev, head of the legal department at Vedomosti’s publisher, Business News Media, told journalists that the media group is taking the threatening text messages seriously and that the content suggests the paper’s journalists could have been surveilled.  Sagdiyev told reporters that he has filed a complaint with a local police department.

On July 16, Sagdiyev posted screenshots of the text messages to his Facebook page. The messages did not directly reference Sagdiyev’s work but demanded that the journalist “stop digging” and warned that he should get life insurance to cover an imminent car crash or acid attack. Some of the text messages said that the journalist’s editor was under surveillance and that he will “soon receive [a warning] from a higher place.” Sagdiyev said in news reports that he thinks the threats were a reference to the newspaper’s chief editor, Ilya Bulavinov

The day after he received the threats, Vedomosti published a report by Sagdiyev alleging that Rosneft plans to spend over US$354 million on luxury helicopter flights in 2017. In an interview with the radio station Echo Moskvy about the threats, Rosneft spokesperson Mikhail Leontyev described the helicopter report as “silly” and said that he believes Sagdiyev made up the threats. He denied that the company had anything to do with the threats.

Russia is one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist. Since the start of this year, two journalists have been murdered in direct relation to their work in Russia. Both journalists had reported being threatened, according to CPJ research.

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