A Voice that Won't be Silenced

October 23, 1994

A voice of freedom was silenced in Moscow last Monday. Dimitry Kholodov, a 27-year-old newspaper reporter who was investigating corruption in the Russian military, was killed by a bomb planted in a briefcase.

The murder was the latest in a growing number of attacks against journalists in Russia. Last year, 25 journalists were killed and another six disappeared in the former Soviet states, according to the Fund for the Protection of Glasnost. The grim statistics don't include the frequent threats, bribes and other actions designed to intimidate and manipulate the Russian media.

In their day, the Communists had other tactics to keep the press in the Soviet Union at bay. The Communist Party trained the journalists, appointed the editors and rewarded those loyal to the state. Reporters rarely attempted to publish information contrary to the government, and censors were in place in every printing plant just in case someone tried.

Today, the threats to a free press are no less sinister. The government still controls most of the printing and distribution facilities, and officials frequently demand payment for interviews. Journalists brave enough to report on the growing corruption in Russian society have been subjected to threats and investigations. Efforts to intimidate the media have extended to Western journalists as well. Some have been called to testify before government tribunals. Some have had to pay money to retain their bureaus.

It is impossible to tell how effective these efforts to silence the press have been, but Mr. Kholodov and his newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, refused to be cowered. Despite death threats, Mr. Kholodov continued to publish evidence linking military officials to illegal arms sales. Although some criticized Moskovsky Komsomolets for inaccurate and sensational reporting, the newspaper's courage and irreverence made it the most popular daily paper in Moscow.

This past week, Mr. Kholodov's enemies succeeded in silencing him and, in doing so, they struck a blow at freedom in Russia. But other voices remain. Within hours after Mr. Kholodov's death, his editor, Pavel Gusev, vowed revenge, "not by maiming or burning people, but by continuing to write." Continuing to report the truth is the only way Mr. Kholodov's death can be avenged. It is the only way the life of Russian democracy can be preserved.

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