Alexander Lebedev 'arms journalists with guns'

The new Russian owner of the London Evening Standard has requested the country’s intelligence services to provide his Moscow journalists with guns for self-defence, according to a report yesterday in the German newspaper Spiegel Online International.

Former KGB colonel Alexander Lebedev, who bought the Evening Standard earlier this month from Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, jointly owns Russia’s Novaya Gazeta with ex-USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev.

Nowhere in Europe is life more dangerous for journalists than in Russia, and no Russian newspaper has had as many of its journalists killed as Lebedev’s Novaya Gazeta.

After the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova, the newspaper’s publisher wants to provide its reporters with guns.

A glass case in its Moscow office displays shrapnel which was removed from the bodies of its war correspondents in Chechnya during surgery. It also contains the computer which investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya used to write her articles before she was assassinated. There are also portraits of murdered journalists Yuri Shchekochikhin and Igor Domnikov.

Now space has had to be made for two more portraits of prominent lawyer Stanislav Markelov, 34, who represented the newspaper in various trials, and a portrait of Anastasia Baburova, 25, who wrote about Russian fascists for the paper. Neo-Nazis have been celebrating her violent death on the internet since she was killed last week.

A masked assassin murdered Markelov and Baburova last Monday. It was an execution in broad daylight, in the middle of Moscow’s “Golden Mile”, a neighbourhood of high-priced mansions and old townhouses not far from the Kremlin.

Conditions for journalists in Russia, a member of the Council of Europe, are more like those in Mexico or Pakistan than those in other European countries.

With the exception of Iraq, where conditions verge on civil war at times, nowhere is the life of a journalist more dangerous than in Russia.

And none of the country’s 14,000 newspapers has had more victims of violence than Lebedev and Gorbachev’s Novaya Gazeta.

The newspaper has fearlessly exposed corruption and the notorious infiltration of government law enforcement organisations by the Russian mafia. Its reporters have denounced human rights violations in the Caucasus and right-wing Nazi groups.

The people who paid for last week’s double murders are widely thought to be either military or intelligence officials, right-wing extremists, Chechens or possibly even government bureaucrats whose illicit sources of income are threatened by the newspaper’s investigative reporting.

Sixty journalists work for Novaya Gazeta and reporters at the paper know they put their lives at risk whenever they agree to cover a hot story.

Because of this risk, Lebedev has requested that Russian intelligence provide them with pistols for self-defence, according to the German paper Spiegel

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