Leonid Parfyonov, one of the few Russian journalists prepared to criticise President Vladimir Putin's government, was fired by NTV on Tuesday after condemning the company's decision not to air an interview with Malika Yandarbiyev.

Salim Khan Yandarbiyev was president of Chechnya for a brief period after it won de-facto independence from Russia in 1996, later losing out in presidential elections to Aslan Maskhadov.

He was blown up by a car bomb in February in Doha, Qatar, where he had been based since 2000.

His widow told Aljazeera.net on Tuesday that her interview had been dropped because it did not fit in with Russian president Vladimir Putin's Chechnya agenda.

"Putin does not want Russians to know that Chechens want peace. It does not fit in with his agenda for numerous reasons. I never expected the interview to get aired," said the widow, whose uncle was shot dead by Russian soldiers last week in the breakaway Russian republic.

"Even though I privately believe senior commanders in the Russian army also want to continue the massacre in Chechnya for financial reasons, I never even alluded to this in the interview."

Channel rejection

One of the best-known faces on Russian television and anchorman for the popular weekly review Namedni, Parfyonov has rejected his network's claim that the interview was prevented from broadcast for legal reasons.

NTV claimed the interview was spiked because the two Russian agents accused of blowing up Yandarbiyev and seriously injuring his 14-year old son, Dawud, were still on trial.

A court statement published on NTV's website said Parfyonov had been dismissed and his programme closed because he had violated his contract - under which he was obliged "to support the company leadership".

Parfyonov disagreed and said the interview, recorded in mid-May, had been dropped under pressure from the security services - keen to prevent Russians hearing the widow of a prominent Chechen speak on national television.

Disillusioned

Head of Russia's Journalists' Union, Igor Yakovenko, said Parfyonov's sacking had shattered his remaining illusions of a free media.

"Putin does not want Russians to know that Chechens want peace.
It does not fit in with
his agenda for
numerous reasons"

Malika Yandarbiyev,
widow of assassinated former Chechen president

"If hitherto we knew there was censorship and state control over nationwide channels, we still had a measured openness in which elite television journalists were allowed some freedom," Yakovenko said.

"Now it turns out that no one is allowed anything and the television channel does not even care about its ratings."

Trial update

In the interview Malika was asked questions about the trial of agents Anatoly Bilashkov and Vassily Pokchov - both accused of her husband's murder and the attempted murder of her son.

She confirmed that one of the two, Bilashkov, had pleaded guilty and had given a detailed statement to Qatari police about how the explosives used to blow up her husband's car were smuggled into the country.

The closed-door trial began in Doha on 11 April and 13 prosecution witnesses have been heard. The verdict is expected on 8 June.