Some Endangered Journalists Want Weapons

Human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter named Anastasia Baburova were shot dead last week. It was the center of Moscow. It was the middle of the day.

After the murders, Alexander Lebedev, the owner of the small, independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper where Baburova worked, took an unusual step. He asked Russian authorities to allow his staff to carry guns for self-protection.

"The FSB [Federal Security Service] has a share of responsibility in what happened," Lebedev said during a news conference in Moscow. "If the FSB is unable to guarantee the protections and safety of our journalists, we will try to defend them ourselves."

Russia is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to live and operate. Fourteen have been murdered here since 2000, according to the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Four of those worked for Novaya Gazeta, which translates as "new gazette."

Among the most famous cases is that of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter whose writing on human rights abuses in Chechnya earned her many critics in Russia.

After Politkovskaya was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building in 2006, there was an international outcry. Human rights groups demanded that measures be taken to protect Russian journalists.

Notwithstanding this call for greater security, Lebedev's proposal that Russian journalists carry guns has ignited a wave of controversy and debate on the radio and in the blogosphere.

Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations in Moscow, rejects the idea of arming journalists.

"This is stupid," he told ABC News. "Journalists should do their job and the state should do its job to protect its citizens. I can't imagine a journalist at the interview with a pistol in his pocket. It's a very strange proposal."

He also warned of the dangerous precedent it would set.

"Doctors and teachers are in danger as well," he said. "Should they be given guns too?"

Some Journalists Want Guns

But some journalists defend Lebedev's idea. One of them is Sergei Solokov, the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta.

"Last summer, we hired a young journalist," he said. "He was an investigative reporter and he had two threats made on his life and was badly beaten. No investigation was done by the authorities. Why should I wake up in the morning and wonder whether all of my journalists will survive the day?"

But, he added, he is not happy that it has come to this. "I wish we didn't need them," he said. "But if there is even a small chance that it will save someone's life, I think they should have them."

The Committee to Protect Journalists is unconvinced. "Ultimately, the enemies of free press in Russia will not be defeated with weapons in the streets. ... These killers must be fought in a court of law, in trials open to the public and the press, by independent judges and fairly selected juries. And they must be defeated."

While it's unlikely that Russian journalists will be armed any time soon, the mere suggestion of it speaks volumes about the level of anxiety.

None of the 14 murders since 2000 has been solved, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.