Slain Russian Journalist Remembered

Protestors hold portraits of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya outiside the palace complex in central Munich, Germany during Russian President Vladimir Putin's welcoming ceremony. (Photo: Denis Sinyakov / AFP-Getty Images)

Anna Politkovskaya, a U.S.-born Russian journalist known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead on Saturday, Oct. 7 in an elevator located in her central Moscow apartment block. Reports have indicated that it was a contract killing carried out by a professional. The mother of two, Politkovskaya was 48 years old.

Politkovskaya reported extensively on the Chechen conflict for Russia's liberal newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. Her writing was often extremely critical of the Russian government, and fervent in its support for human rights and the rule of law. Her murder caused a strong international reaction.

"Politkovskaya was like a candle snuffed out before her time, in shameful circumstances, and her memory deserves a good deal more honor than the leaders of Russia's government are giving it," said London's Times Online (Oct. 12).

The article continued: "She wrote terrifying, moving exposes of the worst of Russian life — the plight of conscripts being bullied in the army, say, or the forgotten retired soldiers eking out their retirement in dying cities — and she wrote terrifying, moving exposés of how Russian soldiers, and Chechen separatists, misbehave in the war in Chechnya, detailing the kidnappings and torture and theft which destroy the lives of ordinary civilians in a way no one else could, because she was just about the last person to regularly risk death in Chechnya to ask ordinary civilians what was happening to them."

Writing for Russian state news agency RIA Novosti (Oct. 12), political commentator Boris Kaimakov posited: "Anna knew the dangers of her position, and lived in fear, as every normal person would in her circumstances, yet her civic courage overcame it. … Anna Politkovskaya was the conscience of a nation intoxicated with chauvinism. I firmly believe a street will be named after her some day in Grozny, the Chechen capital, and Chechens will come to bow to her grave."

The murder drew condemnation from human rights organizations all around the world, as Russia's Regnum news agency (Oct. 11) reported: "UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura called on Russian authorities to punish executers and customers of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya's murder.

An Oct. 10 Regnum article stated that: "The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) sharply condemned Anna Politkovskaya's murder, calling it a 'shocking outrage that stunned journalists across the world.'… 'The Russian authorities must carry out an urgent and intensive investigation. We need to know who killed our colleague and who ordered the attack in the first place,' said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary."

The Russian Journalists Union released a statement dated Oct. 9 which stated, in part: "She was a person of extraordinary courage and inflexibility — she was, and continued to be till her end — the example of journalist, who could write from the dictation of his or her own conscience, not putting the blame on circumstances and not submitting to them. Like her colleague Shchekochikhin [famous Russian journalist, who died in 2003], she also was 'unscrupulous choosing her enemies,' and the stronger, the meaner, the more revengeful the enemies were, the more reckless and furious she was in her attacks against them. She did not make any compromises, struggling for things, which were true from her point of view; she proved that truth to all, who read her articles and listened to her. She was hated for that, she was threatened and persecuted; she was even poisoned once."

Politkovskaya's funeral on Oct. 10 was attended by thousands of mourners. France's International Herald Tribune (Oct. 10) reported: "The mourners stood in the rain, which fell heavily at moments on Tuesday, fulfilling their part in a ritual of sadness and anger and, politically speaking, inconsequence that has become strikingly common in Russia today. They gathered, in this case, on the western edge of Moscow for the funeral of Anna Politkovskaya, a tenacious, sometimes-reckless but always-passionate journalist and activist who died three days ago at the hands, as all clues made clear, of a professional killer. Her murder has made her a symbol of what Russia has become."

The Moscow Times (Oct. 11) said: "Thousands of people paid their final respects Tuesday to slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya, praising her integrity, courage and relentless pursuit of the truth. Family, friends, colleagues and admirers packed the funeral hall at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery, while at least 1,000 others waited in the rain as the memorial service began."

According to (Oct. 10): "More than 2,000 people including foreign diplomats attended a memorial service before Politkovskaya's remains were interred at the Troyekurov cemetery in western Moscow. Services were also held in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and other cities."

The article noted that a total of 23 journalists have reportedly been killed in Russia between 1996 and 2005, with at least 12 of them murdered in contract-style killings since Putin came to power in 2000.

The Russian leader publicly decried the murder, as reported in the Itar-Tass news agency (Oct. 10): "People who organized the murder of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya wanted to harm Russia, President Vladimir Putin told delegates to the Petersburg Dialog forum in Dresden on Tuesday. 'We have reliable information that some people, who are hiding from Russian law enforcers, have long been considering the idea of making a sacrifice in order to harm Russia,' he said."

According to Russia's (Oct. 10): "President Vladimir Putin vowed on Tuesday to hunt down the killers of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, saying he had information they wanted to whip up anti-Russian feelings across the world, Reuters said. … Putin did not elaborate on his information about the killers of Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the president and Russia's war in Chechnya. 'We must be clear that it was a dreadful and unacceptable crime which cannot be allowed to go unpunished,' Putin said in his first public remarks on the killing. 'We have information, and it is trustworthy, that there are people hiding from Russian justice and nurturing plans to sacrifice someone as a victim to create a wave of anti-Russian sentiments worldwide. [Politkovskaya] had minimal influence on political life in Russia. This murder does much more harm to Russia and Chechnya than any of her publications.'"

Putin's proclamation was met with skepticism by many journalists in Russia. (Oct. 10) reported that: "Leading Russian journalists, international journalism watchdogs and Western governments condemned the killing of Anna Politkovskaya and demanded a thorough probe into the attack though many doubt that those behind the killing will be brought to justice. … The skepticism was underlined by the $929,700 reward for information that Novaya Gazeta has offered, signaling stronger faith in their own investigative efforts than those promised by the government, which has produced so few prosecutions before."

"Politkovskaya's death was the most high-profile slaying of a journalist in Russia since the July 2004 assassination of Paul Klebnikov, the U.S.-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. That crime was believed linked to Klebnikov's investigation of the murky business world in Russia but remains unresolved; two ethnic Chechens accused of carrying it out were acquitted earlier this year."

"Dozens of well-wishers came to lay flowers outside the entrance to Politkovskaya's apartment block in downtown Moscow on Sunday and placed flowers and candles outside the newspaper offices. Hundreds meanwhile rallied in Moscow's Pushkin Square to protest her murder as well as the Russian crackdown on Georgians since a spy row erupted last week."

"Underneath a photograph of Politkovskaya, one poster read: 'The Kremlin has killed freedom of speech.'"