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RFE/RL Marks Anniversary Of Politkovskaya Murder

By Brian Whitmore and Claire Bigg Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta," spoke by video link from Moscow (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, October 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Friends and colleagues of slain Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya gathered at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters today to honor her memory through personal remembrances and discussions of the struggle for press freedom in Russia. 

In addition to today's conference in Prague, ceremonies and vigils marking Politkovskaya's assassination also are scheduled to be held in Moscow, New York, Washington, Stockholm, Hamburg, Paris, and London.

Speaking via video link from Moscow, Dmitry Muratov, Politkovskaya's editor in chief at her newspaper, "Novaya gazeta," recited the telephone number that so many people had dialed to convey the truth about Russia's war in Chechnya and other issues that received little or no coverage in the country's mainstream press.

"798-1034. This telephone number stopped answering on October 7 last year," Muratov said in an emotional speech. "Hundreds of people called this number. On this number, she heard numerous curses and threats. She heard many expressions of gratitude. On this number, people called her to set up meetings during which she was given extremely important information on corruption in the Russian Federation."

Muratov said "Novaya gazeta" will reactivate Politkovskaya's old mobile telephone on October 8 in hopes of reviving the stream of calls ended by an assassin's bullets one year ago. Once again, Muratov said, Russians will be able to call with their pain, grief, gratitude, and information about official malfeasance -- and get a sympathetic ear from Politkovskaya's former colleagues.

Murdered In Her Apartment Building

Politkovskaya was shot dead on October 7, 2006, as she stepped into the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. She was hit with three bullets in the chest and one in the head. She was 48. No one has yet been convicted in her murder. Muratov accused Russia's security services of participating in Politkovskaya's assassination and sabotaging the current criminal investigation.

RFE/RL has published a special webpage focusing on the conference, including video from the discussions and a multimedia presentation on Politkovskaya and her legacy.

"She was a person who did not place any luminary or authority above justice. She was absolutely undiscriminating in her choice of enemies," Muratov said, "Now let them be afraid. They, the corrupt officers of Russia's security services, are seeking to ruin the investigation that is being carried out by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office and 'Novaya gazeta.' I can tell you that special services officers and Interior Ministry officials aided, participated in, and organized Anna's murder."

After a year of apparent inaction, Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika announced in August that the murder was carried out by a Moscow-based gang led by an ethnic Chechen. He said 10 people had been arrested, including a member of the Federal Security Service and several former and active police officers. Within days, however, two of the suspects were released. Russia media reports cast doubt on the involvement of two other detainees.

Yelena Rykovtseva, who hosts a daily news program on RFE/RL's Russian Service, was the last journalist to interview Politkovskaya.

"I remember this moment one year ago when I was told that Anna had been murdered," Rykovtseva said. "I was horrified. Not only because the person I have known for 10 years was dead, but especially because I felt that I could be indirectly responsible for that. Just two days before the tragedy Anna was in my broadcast, saying very critical things about [current Chechen President] Ramzan Kadyrov. This could have been the last straw that was followed by revenge."

Death Met With Indifference In Russia

On the day she was killed, Politkovskaya was due to file an article exposing cases of torture by members of the "Kadyrovtsy," Kadyrov's personal militia, which is notorious for its brutal practices. Rykovtseva added that the outpouring of grief that her death sparked across the globe contrasted sharply with the indifference her death met in her homeland. Most Russians, she says, still don't understand what they have lost.

"People in Russia value freedom of speech much less than people in other countries," Rykovtseva said. "That's the reason why Anna's job was not that appreciated in Russia. That's why you don't hear people protesting against the shameful censorship on Russian television channels. Russian society doesn't seem to have even understood what they lost with Anna. They have lost their only chance to learn the truth about Chechnya."

Kevin Klose, a former RFE/RL president and the current head of National Public Radio in the United States, says Politkovskaya has become, through her slaying, the face of the Chechen conflict for Westerners who find the brutal conflict perplexing.

"I think the entire sequence of the Chechnya conflict is very confusing in the West," Klose said. "But when you have a single moment, like the killing of a single individual who has borne witness to that, people see it as a kind of martyrdom issue. It starts to attract their attention on a very personal and specific level."

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek called for intensified international pressure on the Russian government to uphold the rule of law and freedom of expression. "It is important for Russian authorities to investigate her murder to the fullest extent,” adding that “the outcome of the investigation of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya will attest to the current situation in Russia.”

Growing Repression

Many observers have called Politkovskaya's death a turning point in Putin's Russia, heralding a new era of repression and fear. But Edward Lucas, deputy editor of the international section of the British weekly magazine "The Economist," says Politkovskaya's killing was part of a larger pattern of growing repression that started almost immediately after the Soviet collapse and picked up pace under Putin.

"Anna's murder was a symptom of a process that probably started, in a way, back in 1991 when they failed to liquidate the KGB," said Lucas, who covered Putin's rise and early years in the Kremlin as "The Economist's" Moscow bureau chief. "It accelerated more when Putin took over and when he consolidated power, and more after Beslan [hostage tragedy]. It's, I would say, still accelerating."

Many participants agreed that Politkovskaya's work had helped expose that process of mounting repression in modern-day Russia. Few, however, were optimistic that either her work or her untimely death would be able to reverse Russia's current course -- or that there is anyone left in the country who is able to rise to the challenge of following in her footsteps.

The Kremlin's Fallen Foes

The Kremlin's Fallen Foes

Mourners in Moscow mark the 40th day after the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovsksya on November 15 (TASS)

DANGEROUS DISSENT. A surprising number of vocal critics of the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin have been killed or have died mysteriously in recent years. Although the Russian government has denied any involvement in any of the cases, some Kremlin watchers have begun speaking of a clandestine campaign to eliminate dissent.

April 17, 2003: Sergei Yushenkov, veteran liberal politician, Duma member, and leader of a staunchly anti-Kremlin party, is shot dead in Moscow.

July 3, 2003: Yury Shchekochikhin , liberal lawmaker and investigative journalist, dies of a mysterious allergic reaction. Many believe it was a case of deliberate poisoning, but the incident was never investigated as a murder.

February 13, 2004: Former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev is killed in an explosion in Doha, Qatar. Two Russian security-service agents are later convicted of carrying out the killing.

September 2, 2004: Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya falls ill mysteriously on a plane bound for the North Caucasus. Politkovskaya was heading to Beslan, North Ossetia, in a bid to negotiate the release of schoolchildren being held hostage there by Chechen militants.

December 2004: Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko , running for president as a pro-Western candidate against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, is poisoned. He recovers and goes on to win the presidency, although his poisoning remains a mystery.

October 7, 2006: Investigative journalist and vocal critic of Russian policies in the North Caucasus Anna Politkovskaya is gunned down in Moscow.

November 23, 2006: Former Federal Security Service agent Aleksandr Litvinenko, a vocal critic of Russia's secret services, dies of a mysterious poisoning in London.


An annotated timeline of high-profile killings in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.


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