April 9, 2009 / 5:17 PM / 11 years ago

Investigators say Russian reporter wasn't murdered

In this file photo the head of the liberal opposition party Yabloko, Grigory Yavlinsky, holds a portrait of slain journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin during a rally in Moscow December 17, 2006. Russian prosecutors said on Thursday they would close a criminal inquiry into the 2003 death of Shchekochikhin after finding no evidence to back up the claim he was poisoned. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian prosecutors said on Thursday they would close a criminal inquiry into the 2003 death of investigative journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin after finding no evidence to back up the claim he was poisoned.

Shchekochikhin’s death, like that of colleague Anna Politkovskaya, became a symbol of a media crackdown in Russia under former president Vladimir Putin. His successor Dmitry Medvedev has promised to do more to protect civil society.

The initial autopsy said that Shchekochikhin, a 53-year-old reporter for independent daily Novaya Gazeta, died of an unidentified malady. Investigators on Thursday said they found no evidence to back up the claim he was poisoned, as his colleagues suspect.

“Medical tests showed that there were no narcotics, psychotropic, strong poisons or heavy metals in the body of the deceased,” the investigations committee of the prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement.

“No traces of poisoning or damage to the body that would indicate Yuri Shchekochikhin died a violent death were found,” it said. Rather he died of “toxic epidermal necrolysis (Lyell Syndrome),” a severe skin disease.

The investigators’ conclusion is unlikely to appease opposition activists, who have seen two more Novaya Gazeta journalists killed since Shchekochikhin’s death.

Politkovskaya, who like Shchekochikhin won fame for her tough criticism of the Kremlin’s record on democracy and human rights, was shot dead on the doorstep of her home in 2006.

Anastasia Baburova, who wrote about neo-Nazi and skinhead groups in Russia, was shot dead in a street attack in November together with renowned human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov.

Putin denied any involvement in Politkovskaya’s death but refused to offer public condolences, saying she was a marginal figure. Medvedev invited Novaya Gazeta editors to the Kremlin and promised them a proper investigation into Baburova’s death.

Writing by Oleg Shchedrov; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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