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Investigators identify mastermind behind editor's killing

Glasnost Defence Foundation (Moscow) | GDF correspondent Olga Vassilyeva

16 Aug 2013
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP

For the time being the identity of the man who allegedly ordered Nikolai Potapov’s killing is being kept secret by the investigators. The editor’s killers were caught early on by policemen who were hot on their heels.

When Nikolai Potapov, 66, was fatally wounded in the Stavropol Region on 18 May 2013, most of the Russian media referred to him as ex-chairman of the Prigorodny village council, and described him as a human rights defender and volunteer environmentalist. They failed to mention his role as founder, editor and author of the “Selsovet” (village council) newspaper, which he  produced on his computer and personally delivered in his old Oka car around the village, tossing it into residents’ mailboxes.

Potapov published his newspaper (it had a print-run of nearly one thousand) for almost three years, using “Selsovet”, as well as the region’s independent media, as a way of exposing the abuses and corrupt practices of local leaders. It was there that he wrote about his landslide victory in local elections over a candidate from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia; how his fellow district deputies ignored him; why he went on hunger strike; why he and later his wife were beaten by unknown assailants, who then threw a Molotov cocktail through the windows of their home, and fired shots at the windows.

The reasons for this persecution were clear. It was revenge for his reports about the division of the district’s assets and crooked land deals, when land is a commodity worth its weight in gold in the health-resort area where he lived.

“When I was elected head of the village council, I still believed in the triumph of democracy and justice in this country,” Potapov wrote in one of his articles. “But an outsider moving into the echelons of power caused turbulent protests from my rivals, from higher-ranking officials, and from colleagues.” Repeatedly he complained to law enforcement about the threats he received; he even installed security cameras in his office. He reported the crimes committed against himself, his family and his property. The police never made any attempt to track down the perpetrators or those behind them.

Potapov was murdered near his home in Bykogorka village when a man in a black face mask jumped out of a car and fired eight shots at the editor point blank. Heavily bleeding, Potapov lived long enough to call his wife on the phone and tell her the license plate number of his killer’s car. The criminals were detained by pure chance: they failed to stop at a police checkpoint, and then, pursued by police, abandoned their car and tried to escape into a nearby forest.

This article was originally published at http://gdf.ru/digest/item/1/1097 on 12 Aug, 2013

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