Russia and the world have lost a great and courageous journalist. Thekilling of Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 is horrifying and shocking,but not unexpected. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow's Center forJournalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of her murder,"There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I alwaysthought something would happen to Anya, first of all because ofChechnya." It was "a savage crime," said former Russian President --andthe father of glasnost--Mikhail Gorbachev. "It is a blow to theentire democratic, independent press. It is a grave crime against thecountry, against all of us."
Politkovskaya was just 48 years old when she was found in her apartmentbuilding, shot in the head with a pistol. In the last decade, herunflinching reporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechenwar made her one of the bravest of Russia's journalists.
The numerous death threats she had received in these last few yearsnever slowed her. In fact, when she was killed Politkovskaya was atwork finishing an article--to have been published Monday--abouttorturers in the government of the pro-Kremlin Premier of Chechnya.
Politkavskaya was a fearless chronicler of the mass executions, the torture, the rapeand kidnappings of Chechen civilians at the hands of Russian troops andsecurity forces. She understood the cancer that was the war--and wroteand spoke of how the "Bush-Blair war on terror" had given Putinallowance to say he was fighting internationalterrorism. In fact, the Kremlin's policies and the brutal Russianoccupation of Chechnya, she wrote in many dispatches, were insteadengendering the terrorists they were supposed to eliminate.
Her raw and searing reports on the human catastrophe of the Chechen warappeared primarily in Novaya Gazeta, which has become in theselast five years the main opposition newspaper in Russia. It is toNovaya's credit that her crusading investigative articles werepublished inside Russia. In the wake of her death, there is concernthat the next victim may be her newspaper. That's why it's importantthat the international journalistic community defend the weeklynewspaper's independent, dissenting voice. (In a little-noteddevelopment, last june Gorbachev became a minority partner/shareholderin Novaya. His role may provide some protection from anykremlin attempts to curb the paper's voice.)
I met Politkovskaya a few times--in Moscow and in New York, includingat a Committee to Protect Journalist's dinner in New York where shereceived one of the many honors that came her way in these last years..she spoke with fierce intensity about the horror of the war--and theinjustice and corruption she believed was strangling Russia. There wasa bluntness to her personal style--as there was to her investigativereporting. A mother of two, Politkovskaya spoke of her fear, and therisks she knew she faced in taking on the most powerful forces inRussia. But she never let that interfere with what she believedpassionately was her duty as a journalist. In an interview two yearsago with the BBC, Politkovskaya said "I am absolutely sure that risk is[a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannotstop because it's my duty. I think the duty of doctors is to givehealth to their patients, the duty of the singer is to sing. The dutyof [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees is thereality. It's my one duty."
Her latest book, Putin's Russia--an uncompromising indictment of herbeloved country's corrupt politics--has just been published in the US.Read it. But it is her reporting on Russia's long-running brutal war--collected in a previous book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches fromChechnya,-- which best explains what her friend Panfilov said onSaturday: "Whenever the question arose whether there is honestjournalism in Russia, the first name that came to mind wasPolitkovskaya." And may it be remembered that this brave and honestjournalist never compromised on the fundamental ideals of free speechand a free press in the long battle for human rights in Russia.
Since 1992, forty-two journalists in Russia have been killed--most inunsolved contract executions. Journalists--and citizens of allcountries who value the importance of a free press--should join incalling on the Russian government to conduct an immediate and thoroughinvestigation in order to find, prosecute and bring to justice thoseresponsible for Anna Politkovskaya's murder--and those of hercolleagues.