Three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic while investigating a Russian mercenary group, the owner of the investigative journalism outfit that hired them has confirmed.
Orkhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko and Alexander Rastorguev had been filming a documentary for Russian website Investigation Control Centre (TSUR) when they were ambushed by armed men, according to reports.
The attack took place around 10pm on Monday outside the town of Sibut.
TSUR is owned by exiled Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorovsky, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and founder of the Open Russia movement.
In a statement on his personal website, Khodorovsky confirmed the journalists had been working on an investigation into Russian private mercenaries, in particular the group known as Wagner.
He said: “These were brave men who were not prepared simply to collect documentary material, but wanted to ‘feel’ it in the palms of their hands.
“I hoped until the last moment that they had been captured, and that they could be rescued. Rest in peace. My deepest condolences to their relatives. I will make efforts to identify the perpetrators.”
Henri Depele, the mayor of the town of Sibut, told Reuters: “According to the driver’s explanations, when they were 23 km (14 miles) from Sibut… armed men emerged from the bush and opened fire on the vehicle. The three journalists died instantly.”
Although the three journalists were carrying their ID cards, the Russian Embassy in the Central African Republic say they had not been informed about their stay in the country.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed the deaths of the three journalists.
In a statement the ministry said the bodies of the killed journalists had been taken to CAR capital city Bangui, more than 100 miles away.
“Staff members at our diplomatic mission are now in close contact with local law enforcement bodies and government agencies to determine the circumstances of the Russian citizens’ death and to carry out the procedure to transfer the bodies to Russia.
“We express our condolences to the families and friends of the killed and are ready to provide any necessary assistance.”
International Federation of Journalists president Philippe Leruth said: “The assassination of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic is a tragedy, and the IFJ wants first of all to present its condolences to their relatives in Russia.
“The IFJ urges the Central African authorities to search, find and bring the journalists’ murderers to court, as nine journalists’ murders on ten remain unpunished in the world. This scandal must end.”
Central African Republic is ranked 112 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Russia is ranked 148 on the index, with the European Federation of Journalists claiming 47 journalists were killed in Russia between 2000 and 2015.
Investigative journalist Maxim Borodin died in April this year after falling from his fifth floor apartment window. Borodin, who worked for Russian news site Novy Den, had also been investigating the Wagner group.
Picture: Reuters/Baz Ratner