MADELINE BRAND, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeline Brand,
sitting in for Daniel Zwerdling.
In the former Soviet Union this week, in the southern
Russian republic of Kalmykia , police detained three
people in connection with the murder of a journalist.
Writer Larisa Yudina was found dead Monday in a pond.
One of the suspects in the case has links to the
republic's authoritarian government. The collapse of the
Soviet Union was supposed to have brought a new era of
press freedom, but many journalists, particularly in
Russia's far-flung regions, are learning that speaking
out can still be dangerous.
Reporter Eve Conant was the last person to interview
Ms. Yudina before her death. She prepared this
EVE CONANT, Reporter:
What was considered the voice of opposition in
Kalmykia has been silenced. Larisa Yudina was buried in
the city cemetery of the republic's capitol Elista . Her
body was found with a fractured skull and multiple knife
wounds last Monday morning in a pond.
The night before, the 53-year-old journalist received
a call from a man offering documents, documents that
would help her in her investigation of government
corruption in Kalmykia. Yudina went down to the entrance
of her building in her slippers. That was the last time
she was seen alive.
Journalist who go to Kalmykia are assigned minders, so
an interview with Yudina several weeks before her death
could be arranged only late at night.
Yudina lived in a simple apartment with her husband
Gennady . She talked about her belief that president
Kerson Ilyamzhinov was the focal point of corruption in
Kalmykia. The 36-year-old millionaire had developed a
cult of personality, driving around his poverty-stricken
republic in a Rolls Royce, and suppressing any
LARISA YUDINA, Publisher, Soviet Kalmykia Today
(speaking in Russian, via translator): Democratic
freedoms and human rights are violated here more than
anywhere in Russia. We have laws which contradict the
Russian constitution. I live in Russia, but I am not sure
that Russian laws protect me here.
CONANT: Gregori Yavlinski is a leading figure
of the Russian parliament, head of the liberal Yabloko
faction in which Yudina was active. He says that she was
right to be afraid.
GREGORI YAVLINSKI, Head of the Yabloko
Party and Member of the Russian Parliament:
I think it was definitely the interest of the
administration of Kalmykia to kill this journalist. There
is no doubt about that.
CONANT: Larisa Yudina was not the first Russian
journalist to die because of her reporting. According to
the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 66
journalists from the former Soviet Union have been killed
since its breakup. All these deaths are believed to
directly linked to the victim's journalistic
Russia was recently ranked with Algeria as one of the
most dangerous countries for journalists.
Alexi Siminov is president of the Glasnost Defense
Foundation, which monitors press freedom.
ALEXEI SIMINOV: Not a single case when the
journalist was killed, with evident connection with his
professional obligations, was solved inside this
CONANT: Larisa Yudina was well aware of the
danger. She discussed her struggles to publish her
newspaper Soviet Kalmykia Today, despite constant
threats and obstacles. She had no help from the local
media whom she considered mouthpieces for the
YUDINA(via translator): Russian journalists who
come here say they haven't seen papers like this since
Brezhnev's time. They can publish up to 15 photographs of
Ilyamzhinov in one issue.
CONANT: Eventually Yudina published her paper
in neighboring Volgograd in Stavropol. Before her death,
she had been preparing a story on Kalmykia's off shore
zone status and how money from it would go directly into
President Ilyamzhinov 's personal accounts. She described
an attack on her newspaper office by security guards
employed by a bank with links to the Kalmyk
YUDINA (via translator): I tried to call the
prosecutor's office, but they tore the receiver from my
hands. Then I used mace against them, and they jumped out
into the corridor. The head of the security service
appeared and said "I'll kill her now." And shot off his
gun. Later when the investigating team came, they claimed
there were no bullet holes on the ceilings nor on the
CONANT: Although the paper she edited continued
to bear the name Soviet Kalmykia Today, Yudina vehemently
denied communist leanings. Alexei Simonov of the Glasnost
Foundation recalls a recent discussion with Yudina.
SIMINOV: We asked her, "aren't you afraid?" And
you see, and she said, "I am tired to be afraid. I'm
always -- already tired to be afraid." And this is also
rare. Most of us are not yet tired of being afraid.
CONANT: The international watchdog group
Reporters Sans Frontieres has called on President Yeltsin
to protect journalists throughout the Russian Federation.
Faced with such public outcry, Russian federal
authorities have taken over the investigation of Larisa
Yudina's death. But for now, the newspaper editor's name
remains the latest on a growing list of unsolved
For National Public Radio, I'm Eve Conant, in