Fourteen reprisal killings of Russian journalists since 2000 (when current president Vladimir Putin entered office) have had a chilling effect on Russia’s increasingly fearful and watched free press. International outcry about the plight of Russia’s journalists has built slowly but is now reaching a crescendo, with the EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and many, many human rights and press freedom NGOs slamming the Russian Government for its silence and perpetuation of impunity in response to the spate of journalist murders.

Four days ago, the first sentences in seven years were handed down in a case of the murder of a Russian journalist. It’s a crumb of justice, but I can’t help but suspect that even this much is, at least partially, a response to outside pressure.

From the IHT.

Russian court convicts 7 in journalist’s killing
Friday, August 31, 2007

MOSCOW: A Russian court has convicted seven men in the 2000 murder of journalist Igor Domnikov — one of more than a dozen cases of journalists being killed during President Vladimir Putin’s years in power.

The Domnikov case represented the first time suspects were prosecuted in a journalist’s killing since Putin became president in 2000.

Domnikov, who wrote extensively on official corruption for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, died two months after being repeatedly hit in the head with a hammer outside his Moscow apartment building.

On Wednesday, a court in the city of Kazan sentenced four men to life in prison, and three others to prison terms ranging from 18 to 25 years after finding them guilty of killing 23 men, including Domnikov, and of eight kidnappings, regional court official Enza Galiulina said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 14 journalists have been killed since 2000 in reprisal for their reporting. Freedom of press has shrunk notably under Putin, with the government establishing control over all major television channels.

A free, safe, and responsible press is vital to any liberal state. It’s absence, or disappearance, is almost always a sign of darker things to come. These are bad times for the Russian press. For my part, I’ll do everything I can to show solidarity, and add my voice to the chorus calling for greater freedom for, and protection of, journalists in Russia.