A PERSONAL TRAGEDY OR SOMETHING MORE SINISTER?…
The murkiest but potentially most ominous development involving the media came on April 1 with the discovery of the body of Kirill Simonov, the 18-year-old son of Aleksei Simonov, the veteran press freedom advocate who heads the Glasnost Protection Fund. The younger Simonov’s body was found near his apartment building in Moscow and within a day of the discovery, police officials announced a verdict: Kirill had committed suicide by throwing himself from the eleventh floor of a neighboring apartment building. Investigators were quoted as saying there were no signs he had been in a struggle or received wounds other than from the fall. Other news reports said there were indications he had been drinking.
The only problem with this story is that people who knew Kirill Simonov well, including his aunt and a Glasnost Protection Fund board member, dismissed the idea the he could have killed himself out of hand. What is more, his aunt, Maria Simonova, noted that the police had deemed Kirill’s death a suicide–and alleged that he was drunk at the time of his death–long before the testing required to reach such conclusions could possibly have been completed. While Simonova said that she and other members of the family were trying to keep such press reports away from the victim’s grieving father, Aleksei Simonov was quoted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as saying he considered his son’s death a “politically motivated killing.” The elder Simonov, it should be noted, has been outspoken in his criticism of the Putin administration, particularly in connection with the closure of TV-6 and the prosecutions of the military journalist Grigory Pasko and the sociologist Igor Sutyagin by the Federal Security Service (FSB).
The mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Kirill Simonov were eerily reminiscent to those surrounding the January 1995 death of Timofei Grigoryants, the 20-year-old son of another human rights activist and long-time critic of the Soviet and then Russian special services–Sergei Grigoryants. The younger Grigoryants was killed in a hit-and-run incident outside the family’s apartment building that occurred shortly after his father received anonymous threats connected to his anti-special services campaigning. The elder Grigoryants, along with many others in Russia’s human rights community and some foreign observers, suspect Timofei Grigoryants’ death was a politically motivated murder.
Beyond the initial news story, there was scant reporting in the Russian press on Kirill Simonov’s death. A further sign of the issue’s sensitive nature is the fact that Moskovsky Komsomolets, the one newspaper to raise questions about the suicide verdict (it quoted his aunt, among others), signed its piece on the subject “Otdel rassledovanii” (Investigations Department) rather than bylining it with an individual reporter’s name. The paper’s caution was understandable: just as the Simonov story was breaking, the body of Sergei Kalinovsky, chief editor of the Moskovsky Komsomolets’ local edition in Smolensk, was discovered buried in the snow, reportedly showing signs of a violent death. Kalinovsky, who had probed crime and corruption in Smolensk and whose apartment was once burned, disappeared without a trace last December 14.