FACT CHECK: Does Russia Kill Journalists ‘Every Day?’

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

Rep. Adam Kinzinger said on Fox News that Russia kills journalists “every day.”

Verdict: False

While press freedom in Russia is very limited and journalists reporting on sensitive topics there are often threatened, it is misleading to say that Russia kills journalists every day. Around 24 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2009, and not all can be linked to government officials.

Fact Check:

Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized his colleagues who want to cancel an arms deal with Saudi Arabia or impose sanctions in response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“Again, some of these folks that are saying that we need to just basically end all relationships with Saudi Arabia and cancel the arms deal are today advocating for lifting sanctions against Russia, which does this also every day, and poisons and kills journalists,” Kinzinger said on Oct. 23. “And I think the Russians, who’s also working with Iran in Syria and the Middle East, killing journalists every day, basically, in Moscow, and poisoning people in NATO territory, is a bigger problem.”

British authorities suspect that the Kremlin is responsible for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his adult daughter in Salisbury, England, in March.

Journalists in Russia sometimes receive threats and are killed in connection with their reporting, and many suspect that Russian officials are responsible for some of the deaths. But Kinzinger’s claim that Russia kills journalists “every day” leaves a misleading impression.

“We have no evidence which indicates that a journalist is killed every day in Russia,” Ernest Sagaga, head of human rights and safety at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.

Tallies of journalists killed in Russia vary. Some organizations have stricter standards than others for what kind of death counts as being in connection with a journalist’s reporting, and some do not count suspicious deaths until it can confirm that it was related to the journalist’s job.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) identifies 12 journalists killed in Russia since 2009. Reporters Without Borders (RWB) counts 13 and includes some different names from CPJ. Three organizations include nine people who were killed in a 2016 plane crash in their databases: the International Press Institute (IPI) counts 27 journalist deaths since 2009 (it only lists seven of the nine deaths from the crash), the International News Safety Institute (INSI) tallies 20 since 2011 and IFJ counts 15 journalists and media staff killed since 2013.

A DCNF compilation of slain journalists listed by CPJ, RWB, INSI and IPI found that around 24 journalists have been killed in Russia since the start of 2009, not including the nine individuals who died in the 2016 plane crash. That works out to 2.4 deaths per year for about the last 10 years.

Many of those slain were shot or attacked after previously receiving threats in connection with their reporting. Others were found dead, died from unexplained circumstances or mysteriously fell to their deaths. CPJ suspects that government officials are responsible for some of the deaths, but for others, the motive remains unconfirmed.

“It is indeed an exaggeration to state that Russia kills journalists ‘every day,'” Johann Bihr, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at RWB, told TheDCNF in an email.

The organizations find that other countries prove to be deadlier for journalists. IPI said that Mexico was the most deadly country for journalists in 2017.

Russia does, however, severely limit press freedom. RWB ranks Russia 148th out of 180 countries in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

“The Russian government’s control of the major media ensures that journalists don’t really threaten it,” Bihr said. “The Kremlin controls all national TV channels and has confined the independent media to an ever-smaller niche. Pressure on the remaining ones (and on the Internet) has significantly increased in the past few years.”

A private investigation group questioned whether Russia was involved in the July killing of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic who were investigating the Wagner Group, a mercenary firm that some suspect has ties to the Kremlin. The Russian government denies any links to Wagner and said that the journalists died in an armed robbery.

Kinzinger’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter