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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Yet Another Journalist Meets Violent Doom in Moscow

Bad things just keep happening to journalists who dare to criticize the Kremlin. Last Thursday it was Paul Joyal in Maryland, and then on Friday Ivan Safronov in Moscow (pictured). Is it just coincidence? The Moscow Times reports:

A Kommersant journalist who covered military affairs and had more than once angered government officials fell to his death Friday from a fifth-floor window of the apartment building where he lived.

Prosecutors said suicide was the likeliest explanation for the death of Ivan Safronov, a retired colonel who was a columnist at the daily newspaper for more than 10 years. But Safronov's colleagues and neighbors were skeptical he would take his own life.

Safronov's body was discovered at the entrance to his building on Nizhegorodskaya Ulitsa 9, in southeast Moscow.

Kommersant journalist Konstantin Lantratov, who knew Safronov for 15 years, said in an interview that he could not think of a person "more cheerful" than his former colleague. "Anybody else could do that but him," Lantratov said, referring to talk of a possible suicide.

Safronov fell from the window upside down, Lantratov said, adding that that would not have happened if he had jumped of his own volition. "This could mean he was knocked unconscious and then pushed out the window," he said.

Kommersant editor in chief Andrei Vasilyev told NTV that Safronov was "absolutely not capable" of killing himself. "He was a real colonel," Vasilyev said. "He was so good. Everyone in the office loved him."

Safronov had had run-ins with the Federal Security Service over allegations that he disclosed classified information in his articles. "But they always ended well because Safronov used publicly available information and was able to prove that to FSB officers," Lantratov said.

Lantratov said the FSB questioned Safronov last year over a story about the Samara-based TsSKB-Progress, the manufacturer of the Soyuz-ST rocket. Agents wanted to know where the columnist had unearthed some sensitive data. Once Safronov showed them the Internet site where he got his facts, the FSB dropped its case, Lantratov said.

Lantratov said he last spoke with Safronov on Tuesday.

Safronov lived on the third floor of the five-story, brick building. Police believe he died around 4 p.m., a time of day when few people are home.

Anna Shcherbakova, 25, who lives on the fifth floor, said police visited her apartment at about 7 p.m. She said she returned home at about 3:30 in the afternoon and did not notice anything.

Police also questioned other building residents.

Lyubov Grigoryeva, who lives in the apartment directly above Safronov's, on the fourth floor, said she was in her kitchen reading at 4 p.m. but did not hear anything.

The entrance to Grigoryeva's apartment is a half-flight of stairs below the window from which he fell. She added that a dog living on the fifth floor barks at the slightest noise, but on Friday afternoon, she said, she heard no barking at the time when Safronov is thought to have tumbled to his death.

Raisa Belova, 70, another resident, said she found it strange that Safronov had walked up two floors above his apartment, dressed as if he were about to go outside and apparently carrying a bag of mandarins.

"He was completely dressed, wearing a coat and his cap," Belova said.

Belova said she saw a bag of scattered mandarins near Safronov's dead body when she came back from church.

Prosecutors at the Tagansky district office, which is handling the case, could not be reached for comment Sunday. Spokesman Alexei Kravchuk said in televised comments Saturday that investigators considered suicide the most likely explanation for Safronov's death.

Funeral arrangements were tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Lantratov said.

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