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Anna Politkovskaya | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Anna Politkovskaya

The killing of Anna Politkovskaya October 7 has rallied hercolleagues and fellow citizens in a way few recent events have. "Wemust all change the situation after this tragedy and stop the passivityof civil groups and the journalistic community," a Russian journalistfriend told me just hours before 3,000 people gathered in the heart ofMoscow to mourn her death and demand the government conduct an immediateinvestigation.

Politkovskaya's murder was shocking, but for anyone who follows Russianpolitical life today not surprising. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow'sCenter for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of hermurder, "I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of allbecause of Chechnya."

I met Politkovskaya a few times, in Moscow and in New York. Herdemeanor--quiet, even shy--belied her role as a journalistenraged by the injustice and corruption she believed werestrangling her country. Since 1999 her unflinching investigativereporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechen war had madeher the target of numerous death threats, but she never slowed down. Infact, when she was killed, Politkovskaya, 48, was at work on an articleclaiming torture of Chechen civilians by security forces loyal to theregion's pro-Moscow prime minister. Her reporting appeared in Russia'sleading opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independentoutlets left in the increasingly state- or oligarch-controlled media.

Some have blamed President Vladimir Putin for her killing. Among them isthe Washington Post, which pointed to "the climate of brutality that hasflourished under Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent himself." But that is farfrom a satisfactory or full explanation. Since 1992 forty-twojournalists have been killed in post-Soviet Russia--most in unsolvedcontract executions. Thirty of them occurred under Boris Yeltsin,Putin's predecessor. Indeed, Politkovskaya lies in the samecemetery where Dmitry Kholodov, who was killed during the Yeltsin yearswhile investigating military financial corruption, is buried.

Lost amid so much of the coverage is a sad irony: Politkovskaya wasmurdered on the twentieth anniversary of the unfolding of MikhailGorbachev's glasnost policy--which quickly led to an increasingly freepress. Perhaps reacting to the human costs of glasnost's rollback, theformer Soviet president (who recently became a shareholder in NovayaGazeta), called Politkovskaya's murder "a grave crime against thecountry, against all of us...[and] a blow to the entire democratic,independent press."


For those who wish to ensure that the Russian government act to ensure that justice is done, please see the open letter circulating in protest at the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. If you wish to add your signature, please reply to gavinmacfadyen@btinternet.com (he is the Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism at City University, and had been one of her supporters).

Dear Colleague,
This is a letter to protest the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. If you wish to join Seymour Hersh, Lowell Bergman and many others, please let us have your signature at your earliest.

"The assassination of Anna Politkovskaya has shocked and outraged journalists and all those committed to a free and independent press in Russia. Her murder has stilled a remarkable voice in Russian journalism. Her principled reporting of the crimes of the Chechnyan war, the misery of Russia's old, the infirm and the impoverished inspired reporters and readers around the world. But it was a dangerous pursuit.

Since 1993 over 40 journalists have been murdered and not a single killer has been convicted Since Putin assumed power in 2000, human rights organizations have reported that 13 journalists have been killed, and not one killer has been convicted.

These have included the popular television journalist and talk show host, Vlad Listyev, the American editor of Russian Forbes, Paul Klebnikov,and many lesser known reporters and writers.

Every year tens of journalists, both television and print have been harassed, beaten, arrested, kidnapped and some have been exiled. It was in this sinister world of oligarchs, the secret police and military for hire, Chechnyan terrorists, and organized crime from Moscow to Chechnya to London and New York, amidst Kremlin power struggles that Anna Politkovskaya wrote and wrotefearlessly. To the truth she brought a loud speaker.

Journalists, editors, everywhere join the The Centre for Investigative Journalism, for whom she spoke this summer at the Summer School at City University, in protesting this callous political assassination. It is perhaps not extraordinary that the Putin Government, despite protests around the world, waited days before condemning the killing. Putin himself was one of the main objects of her outrage at the brutality, suffering, corruption and incompetence he symbolized.

Now that Putin, after many international protests, has finally agreed to act, that government must be pressed to deliver on its promise to find and punish the guilty.

Journalists must wait now to see if anything happens at all or whether like so often in the past, the killers and those who hired them somehow vanish in confusion and mystery. "

Gavin MacFadyen, Director
Centre for Investigative Journalism, City University

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