Republican presidential contender Donald Trump came to the defence of Russian President Vladimir Putin over claims the Kremlin had sponsored the murder of journalists saying “it’s never been proven.”
Trump, who last week Putin described as a “bring and talented person,” appeared on Sunday talk shows were he reiterated his defence of the Russian leader.
“In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been – you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the names,” Trump said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
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The leading Republican candidate was challenged by host George Stephanopoulos to condemn the killings of journalists, citing the 2006 murder of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, which some activists have long linked to the Russian government.
“If he has killed reporters I think that’s terrible,” Trump said. “But this isn’t like somebody that’s stood with a gun and he’s taken the blame or he’s admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it.
“It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody, so you know you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty at least in our country he has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
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A report from the Committee to Protect Journalists has found that between 1993 and 2013 at least 36 journalists have been murdered in Russia. According to the report, the murders were often directly related to their reporting and only four cases have ever received a conviction.
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Putin has faced international criticism in the past for harsh suppression of the press. Last week, Putin signed a law allowing Russia’s Constitutional Court to decide whether or not to implement rulings of international human rights courts.
Russia ranks 152 out of 180 countries according to the 2015 World Press Freedom from Reporters Without Borders for its crackdown and “draconian” legislation to suppress independent media. The report highlights the worldwide deterioration in freedom of information.
Trump also praised Putin as a “strong leader” in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.
“What am I going to say, he’s a weak leader?” Trump said Sunday. “He’s making minced meat out of our president. He is a strong leader … He can’t stand President Obama. I think it would be a positive thing if Russia and the United States actually got along and they could work to the mutual good of getting rid of ISIS.”