Russian Journalist Sets Herself on Fire and Dies, Blaming Government

MOSCOW — A Russian journalist who edited an independent news website died on Friday, setting herself afire in front of police headquarters in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, a day after investigators had searched her home there.

Just before her self-immolation, Irina Slavina, 47, the founder and editor of Koza Press, a local news site, posted a message on Facebook saying: “I ask you to blame the Russian Federation for my death.”

Koza Press confirmed her death. The local branch of the Investigative Committee, Russia’s equivalent of the F.B.I., said in a statement that the allegation that her death had anything to do with the search of her apartment was “groundless.” The statement said the search had been conducted as part of a criminal case in which Ms. Slavina was considered a witness.

Credit…Associated Press

Ms. Slavina said on Facebook Thursday that early in the morning 12 people, including members of a special police unit, had conducted a search of her apartment. The Facebook post said law enforcement agents had been looking for “brochures, leaflets, accounts” from Open Russia, an opposition organization, financed by Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a Kremlin critic, who had to flee Russia after spending more than a decade in prison.

The search was conducted as part of a criminal case against Mikhail Ioselevich, a local entrepreneur, who the authorities suspect was working together with Open Russia, officially regarded as an “undesirable organization” in the country.

Ms. Slavina’s death came against the backdrop of rising dangers confronting journalists who write about subjects deemed objectionable by the Kremlin. The number of threats and attacks against journalists in the country has surged in recent years, according to incidents compiled by Justice for Journalists, an advocacy group.

“Russia remains a country where working as a journalist is associated with increased risks to life, health and freedom,” the group says on its website.

Before the search, Ms. Slavina had been continuously pressured by the local authorities. She was fined for taking part in opposition demonstrations in Nizhny Novgorod and for mentioning Open Russia in her Facebook posts.

Local authorities throughout the Russian regions have been putting pressure on independent media outlets and journalists. Many have quit established publications to create their own small websites or blogs. Before founding her own news website in 2016, Ms. Slavina worked in several local media outlets, where she always faced various forms of censorship.

“I lost jobs three times because I can say that I poked my nose too far,” she said in an interview in September of last year.

The website’s only editor and writer, Ms. Slavina published investigative articles about the internal workings of the Federal Security Service, the most powerful security agency in Russia. Despite its one-member staff, Koza Press quickly turned into one of the most cited outlets in the region.

In Nizhny Novgorod, a city of 1.3 million people 250 miles east of Moscow, people were taking flowers and candles to the site of Mr. Slavina’s death, according to photos posted online.

Natalia Gryaznevich, an acquaintance of Ms. Slavina, described her “as a brave journalist, without any cynicism or suspiciousness.”

“She was just a very free and passionate person,” Ms. Gryaznevich wrote on her Facebook account. “It is deadly dangerous to be such a person in Russia.”

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