MAKHACHKALA, Russia (Reuters) - The founder of a newspaper that investigated government corruption has been shot dead in Russia's North Caucasus region, in what an international watchdog called "a lethal blow to press freedom."
A gunman shot Gadzhimurat Kamalov as he was leaving the offices of the newspaper Chernovik in the capital of Dagestan province shortly before midnight on Thursday, the regional Interior Ministry said.
Police said Kamalov was shot eight times and pronounced dead on the way to hospital.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists at Chernovik, known for reporting on corruption in the provincial administration, had been "routinely persecuted for their work."
"Today's murder of Gadzhimurat Kamalov ... is a lethal blow to press freedom," the CPJ said in a statement.
His killing was "a massive loss for independent journalism in the North Caucasus, Russia's most dangerous place for reporters," it quoted regional coordinator Nina Ognianova as saying.
Russian journalists who investigate corruption face serious risks, particularly in the provinces, where authorities are less likely to face scrutiny over attacks on journalists.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 56-nation rights and security body based in Vienna, urged the authorities to ensure the safety of all journalists working in the region.
"I am alarmed by this murder, which targets a newspaper known for its investigative reporting," OSCE media freedom chief
Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement.
Two years ago, Mijatovic said, Kamalov and several other media professionals were threatened with death in anonymous leaflets that circulated in Makhachkala.
Predominantly Muslim Dagestan is plagued by violence stemming from an Islamist insurgency rooted in the 1990s separatist wars in neighboring Chechnya as well as conflicts over business and political power.
"Dagestan and the Northern Caucasus are known to be among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists," Mijatovic said.
At least 32 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992, including the 2006 killing of Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, and most have gone unsolved, the CPJ says.
It lists Russia as the ninth-worst country in the world for the treatment of journalists. The CPJ's "impunity index," a list of states where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes, is headed by countries including Iraq, Somalia and Mexico.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Editing by)