MOSCOW: Editors of Russia’s opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta said Thursday they were planning to give their employees weapons training and arm them with non-lethal weapons to protect themselves against possible attacks.
The decision comes amid a spike in violence against dissenters in Russia, including this week’s attack on a radio journalist who was stabbed in the neck at the offices of the liberal Echo of Moscow radio.
“If the state is not ready to protect us, we will protect ourselves,” Sergei Sokolov, a deputy editor at Russia’s top opposition newspaper, told AFP on Thursday.
“When journalists find themselves helpless in the face of lawlessness on the streets and indiscipline of law enforcement agencies, there is no other way.”
Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov said on Wednesday that a number of employees would undergo arms training and the newspaper would purchase the weapons.
The use of firearms is tightly regulated in Russia. The so-called “traumatic” weapons such as arms that fire rubber bullets can be used for self-defence but can also inflict lethal damage.
“I will arm the newsroom,” Muratov said on Echo of Moscow radio.
“We will also supply journalists with other security means that I don’t want to talk about.”
“We will conclude an official agreement with the Russian interior ministry,” he added. “I have no other choice.”
Contacted by AFP, Muratov said he could not provide details of the plan over security concerns.
“Our security experts have asked me to refrain from commenting before we take concrete steps,” he said.
Pavel Kanygin, a Novaya Gazeta correspondent, said he was ready to use non-lethal weapons to defend himself.
“I don’t see anything bad in our situation,” he told AFP in written comments, adding that potential criminals may be deterred by the knowledge that Novaya Gazeta reporters carry weapons.
“This too is defence.”
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Thursday he saw no reason to provide extra security for journalists.
“Unfortunately, every one of us can become the target of a madman,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding Novaya Gazeta was free to adopt any measures as long as they were in line with existing laws.
Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov jumped at the opportunity to tout its guns, saying it was ready to offer a 10 per cent discount to all journalists seeking to purchase non-lethal weapons.
“Kalashnikov Concern advocates responsible gun ownership and supports a lawful right of citizens to protect themselves,” the company said in a statement.
It promoted “arms of limited damage” such as the MP-80 Makarov pistol that it said could be purchased online.
Over the past two decades Novaya Gazeta has lost several journalists to contract-style killings, including investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya who was gunned down at the entrance to her Moscow apartment in 2006.
Earlier this week Tatyana Felgenhauer, a 32-year-old Echo of Moscow presenter, was stabbed in the neck by a mentally unstable man.
Many commentators have blamed the authorities for fomenting hatred against dissenters and creating an atmosphere in which such attacks became possible.