Russian army robs JC’s man at gunpoint

A JC correspondent has been robbed at gunpoint by a Russian soldier while reporting the war in Georgia.

Israel correspondent Anshel Pfeffer, 35, was forced to abandon the hire car he shared with three other Israeli journalists at a checkpoint in the city of Gori when troops began firing shots in the air.

Their Georgian driver fled and one of them was forced from the car as they ran for cover. The soldier then drove away the car, complete with cameras, as they sought refuge in nearby woods.

Russian soldiers on patrol in Gori. A young colleague threatened our man at a checkpoint

 

"The soldier had started shouting and pointing his weapon at me. I realised he wanted to steal the car," said Mr Pfeffer, who was left unharmed by the robbery last Thursday.

"Then he shot at the ground near the foot of one of the people I was with. I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

"It was pretty scary, but you don't really think about it at the time. You just have to duck and run and try your best to keep out of danger. In a situation where thousands have been killed and tens of thousands have been made homeless, what happened to a few Israeli journalists was a minor detail."

The car was returned intact 20 minutes later - on the orders of Russian military commanders who had witnessed the incident.

Four journalists have been killed in the conflict so far, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). They include two Russians and one from Holland. Yedioth Ahronot reporter Tzadok Yehezkeli was badly injured while covering clashes in Gori.

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said: "The killings indicate that there are very few places to report safely. We call on the international community, particularly the OSCE and the Council of Europe, to impress upon state authorities the need to avoid targeting, or in any way putting at risk, journalists and media staff."

A spokesman for Reporters Sans Frontières, an organisation that defends press freedom, said: "We have asked the Russian and Georgian authorities to respect their work. We have received many stories from journalists about the difficulty they faced in Georgia and at the borders. There have been many stories of journalists arrested, threatened or physically attacked.

"We have not received an answer from the Russian authorities, but we really hope they will do something to respect the work of journalists."

Jeremy Dear, general-secretary of Britain's National Union of Journalists, said: "Journalists working in conflict zones often take enormous risks to report news from some of the most troubled parts of the world.

"The conflict in Georgia has already claimed the lives of at least four journalists and a driver, with others facing serious injury. There has also been a number of reports of journalists being shot at, held at gunpoint and being robbed.

"The local authorities must ensure that media staff are not targeted or put at risk in any way.

"News organisations also have a responsibility to do all they can to protect the people bringing them reports of the conflict."

The Russian Embassy in London had not responded to a request for comment by the time we went to press.

    Last updated: 7:02pm, August 26 2008