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Russia: Prominent Journalist, Kremlin Critic, Shot Dead In Moscow

Politkovskaya at RFE/RL in July (RFE/RL) October 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian journalist known for her critical coverage of the war in Chechnya, has been shot dead in her apartment building in Moscow.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the October 7 shooting, which they say could have been a "premeditated murder." Press watchdogs and rights activists have condemned the killing.

Moscow police said Politkovskaya's body was found by a neighbor in an elevator in the apartment building where she was living in the city center.

Police officials said a pistol and four bullets were found in the elevator.

Politkovskaya was respected for her critical, in-depth coverage of the Russian government's campaign in Chechnya. She worked for "Novaya gazeta," a newspaper known for its opposition to the Kremlin.

Grigory Yavlinsky of the liberal opposition Yabloko party told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the murder was "an outrage and a tragedy."

"Anna Politkovskaya was the number-one person in political journalism, in the sense that she wrote everything she thought and everything she saw," Yavlinsky said. "She was always in the most critical places -- Chechnya, Beslan. Her material uncovered the essence of everything taking place in Russian politics, and generally in Russian life. She was a person who could bring secrets out into the open. Her murder -- the destruction of such a person -- is a very symbolic event for Russia."

Deep Involvement

Politkovskaya's coverage of Chechnya often extended beyond standard reporting work.

In 2002, she acted as a negotiator with Chechen rebels who laid siege to a Moscow theater.

In books like "The Dirty War" and "A Small Corner Of Hell," Politkovskaya described the massive human rights abuses rampant in Chechnya.

She was also openly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin for his role in the Chechen campaign.

Her outspoken style came at a price. She had been arrested in the past, and complained of sometimes being threatened.

In 2004, she fell seriously ill with symptoms of food poisoning after drinking tea on a flight from Moscow to southern Russia during the school hostage crisis in Beslan, North Ossetia.

At the time, her colleagues suspected it was an attempt on her life.

Accusations Of Contract Killing

Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, said he believes her death is tied to her critical stance on the Kremlin and Chechnya.

"There's no doubt that this murder was tied to her professional work as a journalist. It's clearly a contract killing -- that can be seen from the circumstances," Yakovenko said. "The fact that the person was killed in the entryway of their apartment building, that the pistol was left at the scene of the crime -- all that is the signature of a professional hired killer."

There has been no immediate reaction for the Kremlin. The Moscow city prosecutor's office announced it has opened an investigation into the murder.

First Deputy Prosecutor Vyacheslav Rosinsky said they were looking into the possibility of a "premeditated murder."

Demand For Goverment Action

International media and rights watchdogs were quick to condemn the killing.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, the chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), called Politkovskaya "one of Russia's most outstanding investigative journalists and political commentators."

He called upon Russian authorities to track down those responsible as soon as possible.

Politkovskaya received the 2003 OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy.

Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two, had been working on a story about torture in Chechnya in the days before her death.

Aidan White, the secretary-general of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a media watchdog based in Brussels, told RFE/RL that Politkovskaya's slaying was clearly a "targeted assassination:"

"For the IFJ, it's very clear to us that when a journalist of such a reputation can be killed in this way, it reflects on the state of lawlessness that is threatening to overwhelm the whole of Russian journalism," White said. "It's very clear that this has been a targeted assassination. It's important that the government of Vladimir Putin act immediately to bring the killers to justice."

White called Politkovskaya the "bravest of a new breed of brave Russian reporters."

In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists described the killing as a "devastating development for journalism in Russia."

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said, "Russia is a violent country and violent to journalists."

The killing was also condemned by rights watchdog Amnesty International, and by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who is also a shareholder in "Novaya gazeta."

Terry Davis, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, expressed sympathy for Politkovskaya's family and said she was a woman who "had a lot of enemies as a result of her honesty."

"This is terrible news. Obviously I'm very deeply shocked and concerned about what has happened," Davis said. "She was a woman of great personal courage, and she had an international reputation for honesty and independence in her work, in her reporting from places like Chechnya. And so she'll be very badly missed by all of us."

Condemnation And Grief

Lev Ponomaryov, chairman of the "For Human Rights" activist group, said the rights community was devastated by the loss of Politkovskaya, whom he described as "a brilliant journalist" and "a person who was always on the front line."

"There were a lot of other things that we did -- organizing protests, and the like," Ponomaryov said. "But she was in Chechnya. She was doing ten times more than we were. And Chechnya is the front line. She was always putting herself at risk. She had already been poisoned. Of course, it's not right that women go before a man. But that's what happened."

Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two, had been working on a story about torture in Chechnya in the days before her death, her newspaper said.

Press Under Assault

Press Under Assault


BREAKING THE NEWS: Press freedom is under assault in virtually all of the countries of the former Soviet Union. Independent media confront enormous challenges in providing citizens with the independent information that can help advance democratic reforms. On May 2, RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a roundtable briefing that gave an overview of media developments in the CIS and discussed the connections between press freedom and future democratization. The briefing featured Freedom House Director of Studies CHRISTOPHER WALKER, American University Associate Research Professor ROBERT ORTTUNG, and RFE/RL Central Asia analyst DANIEL KIMMAGE.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 90 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media

RFE/RL's Press Freedom Day stories:

Iraq: Covering The Most Dangerous Beat On Earth

Afghanistan: Women In Journalism Battle Restrictions, Threats

Iran: State Maintains Tight Control Over Information

CIS: Press Freedom In Former Soviet Union Under Assault

Central Asia: Bureaucratic Obstacles Hinder Journalists

Central Asia: Governments Wary Of Independent Media

Central Asia: Journalists Still Face Harassment, Threats

THE COMPLETE STORY: To view an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of media-related stories, click here.


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