Kamalov Murder Points to Increased Risks for Civil Activists In the North Caucasus

By Valery Dzutsev
On December 15, a well-known Dagestani journalist and publisher, Khajimurad Kamalov, 46, was gunned down near his office in Makhachkala. On December 16, president of Dagestan Magomedsalam Magomedov made a special statement about Kamalov’s murder. Magomedov attributed the attack to “enemies of Dagestan” (https://www.riadagestan.ru/news/2011/12/16/122613/, December 16).
Experts were divided on who could be behind the prominent Dagestani journalist’s murder. Lifenews.ru reported that Kamalov’s colleagues were convinced he was killed because of the imminent publication of an article about law enforcement’s abuses in Dagestan. The brazen manner in which Kamalov was killed – the killer followed him in the city street shooting at him – probably attests to this version (https://www.lifenews.ru/news/77240, December 16). However, Kommersant reported that Kamalov’s main media resource, the newspaper Chernovik, had become much more loyal to the republican authorities and that could have caused a retaliation by insurgents (https://kommersant.ru/doc/1839478, December 16). Respected expert on the North Caucasus, Alexei Malashenko, also tentatively suggested that Chernovik was more of “an irritant” for the insurgents, than for the government (https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2011/12/16_a_3929982.shtml, December 16).
Yet, officials professing the government’s position are on the record with open threats againt Khajimurad Kamalov; on the other hand, there is no evidence that the Dagestani militancy ever made such a threat. To date, the Dagestani insurgents’ website only republished the news about Kamalov’s killing with no substantial comment on his murder (https://jamaatshariat.com/new/15-new/2023-2011-12-16-04-39-31.html, December 16). Out of a dozen cases of journalists killed in Dagestan in the past decade, not one such death was proven to have been carried out by insurgents, and not one of these crimes has been solved.

Given the prominence of Khajimurad Kamalov, his murder may signal a new era of crackdown on civil liberties in Dagestan and the North Caucasus as a whole. With the government’s legitimacy undermined after manifestly rigged parliamentary elections in Russia, the insurgency rises and civil activists galvanize. Journalists and civil activists, however, may be in an especially vulnerable position as they become targeted by the conflicting sides – first and foremost by the government authorities.