Correspondence of journalists killed in CAR shocked public
People responsible for organizing the trip did not even help them solve the issue of insurance.
Federalnoe Agentstvo Novostey (‘Federal News Agency’) has published the correspondence of journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguev, and Kirill Radchenko, killed in the Central African Republic, with their supervisors from Tsentr Upravleniya Rassledovaniyami (‘Center for Investigation Management’, TSUR) during preparation and the trip itself. When reading it, one keeps getting the feeling that the organizers of the most dangerous trip are complete bone heads.
The materials start with the group compiling a list of people who could help them with the investigation in the CAR. Then Rodion Chepel’, a journalist who cooperates with the TSUR, creates a chat titled Centrafrique on Telegram. The correspondence is from this chat.
At first, everything looks like a typical preparation for a trip — they discuss the purchase of tickets and booking of accommodation. But already on July 11, Rastorguev wrote a strange message, saying that he failed to “complete the task” of TSUR Head, Andrey Konyakhin. Namely, film the visa processing.
What for? They are tourist visas, and shooting at the embassy is prohibited.
Then Rastorguev provides a note on the dangers of the Central African Republic: “The level of crime in the country is extremely high, even for Africa. It is not recommended to travel without security. The situation in the east of the country is outside the control of the authorities.”
Konyakhin, who sends the journalists there, reacts briefly and concisely, “Creepy.” And sends an emoji.
Creepy indeed. In terms of the level of preparation for the trip.
They download the certificate from the tourist website Aviaterra. But it does not really matter where exactly. Security issues are not discussed further at all. If we don’t consider the health insurance a security issue, which, as it turns out from correspondence, only Rastorguev has. Anastasiya Gorshkova, Deputy Chief Editor of Tsentr Upravleniya Rassledovaniyami, advises the rest of the trip participants to do it themselves by visiting an office of any insurance company and paying 3,000 rubles ($44). They also discuss the right clothes and medicines. Dzhemal, who is experienced in this, gives his recommendations. He says that they need trekking boots, jeans, a light jacket, and so on.
According to the chat messages, the problem with accommodation remains unsolved. It is the ‘fixer’ (a person who helps journalists on the spot) Martin who will solve it.
A no less entertaining story with the documents begins. “I suggest all participants of the trip send their 3x4 cm electronic photos to Nastya Kulagina (a TSUR employee — Editor’s note). Nastya, we need to make compact (!) press cards in English. And a UN logo for the car,” Konyakhin wrote.
Going forward, we shall note that August 1, Head of UN Information Center in Moscow Vladimir Kuznetsov referring to Spokesperson of the UN mission reported that “the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has neither provided a driver, nor a car for the film crew of Russian journalists.”
(By the way, Konyakhin later claimed cooperation and communication with MINUSCA representatives).
That is, the guys had their documents in a language, which is practically not used in CAR — the locals speak French and a local dialect — and the car had a fake identification mark.
However, it will later become clear that with the press cards, they were also relying on the law of averages. “There are many areas outside of Bangui control that you will cross. A card of a Russian journalist might actually work there,” Konyakhin says. He explains to Dzhemal that the availability of press identification cards will not take down the tourist legend: “Do not show them. Hide them, if necessary.”
July 27, the group is sent on a business trip and has to spend the night in Casablanca. But it suddenly turns out that the flight to Bangui will be on the same day.
Chepel gets in touch with Martin the fixer.
“Martin says that it takes a day and a half to go from Bangui to Bambari (where Martin and the mine are). You can find accommodation in Bambari. Call him when you work this stuff out with your flight and tell him the time of your arrival,” Chepel adds.
Now, Konyakhin’s task is quite unclear: Film yourself getting rid of the press cards!!! You can use a little comment. Another journalist of the same publication, (….), has said that we actually need to first agree with the Ministry of Press and Communications)) Yeah, sure, we’ll do it)) – we told him.”
TSUR employee Anastasiya Kulagina is puzzled by the proposal to burn the press cards. Konyakhin says: “It has to be done.”
The development of the route is accompanied by the same carelessness. As can be seen from the correspondence, the journalists use random publications as sources of information.
As for the money and gear. “Will we have insurance for the gear? (I ask because my entire gear alone is estimated at about 300k plus your equipment + the new stuff we bought is about 500k,” Rastorguev asks.
“A note on finance: daily cost of food - $40/day ($840 for each); $2150 for accommodation, 16 nights, according to the cost of a house in Bangui; $2250 to a driver-interpreter, calculation for a maximum of 15 days at $150 outside the city (do not forget that in Bangui, his rate is $90 a day); $1500 for emergency reserve (other expenses, such as a taxi from the airport, if Martin does not meet you there, ‘bribes,’ etc.). Please record all the expenses,” Anastasiya messages.
It is a real mess after their arrival. No one meets the group at the airport, so the journalists take a cab to their hotel. Already at the airport, they find that shooting is extremely problematic there.
They eventually find a driver. But his behavior felt hinky even to Konyakhin.
“We were not allowed to enter the territory (where the tomb of Bokassa and the Russian private military company is allegedly located — Editor’s note). After our interpreter negotiated with them (not in our presence, as he was granted access to the territory), they said that admission to the palace is granted through a pass from the Ministry of Defense.
The interpreter said that he had met a Russian man inside. As we understood (but it is not certain), it was through him that the negotiations about granting access were held. In addition, two cops stopped us outside the hotel with all our gear, so we had to bribe them. Then we were stopped at a checkpoint, had to pay another bribe, but smaller.
White is not the color for the Central African Republic. Locals do not feel comfortable when we get the camera out. They’re unfriendly. It kinda resembles pride. They shouted at us, that they were not pygmies (to be filmed),” Radchenko says in the chat room.
According to him, some “locals” are already watching the group, who have already estimated the cost of their equipment. “The fact is, it is the locals who got us busted after seeing us fiddling with the photo gear near the car.” That’s what the cops said after we bribed them, ‘You better choose a quieter street,’” he says.
Nevertheless, Konyakhin insists on a trip to the military base and tells the group to be tougher. Two days later, the journalists were found dead.
We do not know the reason for their murder yet. On Wednesday, August 29, the investigative group of the Russian Investigative Committee, which took part in the investigation into the death of Russian journalists, is to return from the Central African Republic. The investigators were to get acquainted with the materials that the local police had collected and talk with the driver of the deceased.
And, most disturbingly, the results of their investigation will still not be accepted by public opinion. As always, public opinion is divided on the issue. And both parties have already made their conclusions and taken them for granted. Liberal-minded citizens will never believe that there was no Russian special services and mercenaries involved, regardless of the facts that emerge. And those patriotically minded will not believe that it had nothing to do with Khodorkovsky.
No matter how many correspondences we publish. Although it is all pretty obvious — rich white tourists without security and support of the local authorities in the criminal black region, where law means nothing.