Russian journalist killed

Reporter who criticized Putin, Chechen conflict found shot in Moscow

October 08, 2006|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,Sun Foreign Reporter

MOSCOW -- A well-known Russian journalist who reported critically, relentlessly and fearlessly on everything from the Kremlin's policy in Chechnya to corruption in the military was shot dead yesterday, officials said, the latest in a string of killings of reporters in recent years.

A neighbor found the body of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow, a handgun and four bullets nearby, Russian news agencies reported.

She had reportedly been shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest.

Officials opened a murder investigation in connection with her killing, though her husband, Aleksandr Politkovsky, also a journalist, said he doubted the case would be solved, as most killings of journalists here are not.

Politkovskaya, 48 and the mother of two, had long been the target of threats. In 2004, she became seriously ill and was hospitalized after a flight from Moscow to southern Russia to cover the school hostage crisis in Beslan, and she said later that she believed someone had tried to poison her.

Colleagues and others who knew her work were quick to draw a link between her death and her reporting. She tirelessly chronicled human rights abuses and policy failures in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia's North Caucasus. In 2003, she published a book called A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches From Chechnya, which painted a picture of a hellish, brutal war in which thousands of innocent citizens have been tortured, abducted or killed at the hands of Chechen or federal authorities.

Her more recent book, Putin's Russia, provided an equally blunt account of the administration of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

"She wrote tough articles very bluntly," said freelance journalist Marat Khairulin, who worked with Politkovskaya before he left Novaya Gazeta several months ago. "She wrote about Chechnya, which was not fashionable anymore, since it should be believed that everything in Chechnya is getting better. But she still wrote about all the atrocities ... and she never hesitated to name names."

Politkovskaya briefly went abroad in 2001 after reportedly receiving e-mail threats claiming that a Russian policeman who she had said had committed human rights violations was seeking payback.

Moscow deputy prosecutor Vyacheslav Rosinsky told reporters yesterday that his office was investigating whether Politkovskaya's killing was carried out in retribution for her work.

Colleagues at Novaya Gazeta said the paper was preparing to run in its next issue another story by Politkovskaya about Chechnya, the latest in a series of critical articles she wrote about Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov's security forces have been accused of all manner of atrocities in the region. In an interview published in 2004, she quoted him as calling her "the enemy."

Vitaly Yaroshevsky, the paper's deputy editor, said Politkovskaya gave an interview to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last week in which she said she was a witness in a criminal case against Kadyrov in connection with abductions in Chechnya - a case based on her reporting. In that same interview, she called Kadyrov the "Stalin of our day."

"We believe it is a political murder," said Yaroshevsky, who speculated that her killing could either be for revenge or an effort by someone to try to frame Kadyrov.

"Unfortunately, she was one of the few journalists of that level who wrote openly, and if there were more like her, perhaps Anna would be alive," he said.

In a BBC interview two years ago, Politkovskaya said she felt compelled to continue her reporting, regardless of any death threats.

"I am absolutely sure that risk is [a] usual part of my job. ... I think the duty of doctors is to give health to their patients, the duty of the singer to sing. The duty of [the] journalist: to write what this journalist sees in the reality."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, has dubbed Russia one of the five most dangerous countries for reporters, along with the Philippines, Iraq, Bangladesh and Colombia.

Before Politkovskaya's death, 12 journalists had been slain in "contract-style killings" in Russia since 2000, according to CPJ. Among them was Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. He had written extensively about the murky business dealings of Russia's oligarchs. He was shot multiple times in July 2004 as he was leaving his office.

At least one other Novaya Gazeta reporter has been killed in recent years. Igor Domnikov died in 2000, a few months after being hit over the head in the entrance to his Moscow apartment building. He may have been mistaken for another reporter who was threatened after reporting on corruption in the oil industry, the CPJ said.

Yuri Shchekochikhin a former deputy in the State Duma and an investigative journalist, died in 2003 under unexplained circumstances, shortly after he too had received threats.

In an interview with Interfax, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who bought a stake in Novaya Gazeta, called Politkovskaya a "courageous woman" and her killing a "savage crime."

"It is a blow to the entire democratic, independent press; it is a grave crime against the country, against all of us," he said.

He said the paper would conduct its own investigation into her death.

"Nobody will be able to replace her," said Lev Ponomaryov, a human rights activist who had worked with Politkovskaya. "For us, it is a great tragedy."

erika.niedowski@baltsun.com

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