Moscow: Anna Politkovskaya pays with her life for fearless investigative journalism Print E-mail

 Moscow -- October 7 2006


Russian award-winning journalist Anna Politkovskaya shot to death in an elevator

A well-known Russian journalist, an observer of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Anna Politkovskaya, was killed in Moscow today. The journalist’s neighbor found her body in an elevator at about 5.p.m. Moscow time. The police found a gun and four shells on the scene of the crime. Politkovskaya was award-winning journalist known for her critical coverage of the war in Chechnya. Prosecutors believe her killing could be connected to her investigative work.

Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was found dead in an elevator in her apartment building in central Moscow, police, prosecutors, and a colleague said.

Prosecutors have opened a murder investigation, said Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor's office. Investigators suspect the killing could be linked to her work, Vyacheslav Rosinsky, Moscow's first deputy prosecutor, said on state-run Rossiya television.

Rosinsky said a pistol and bullets were found at the site of the crime. The RIA-Novosti news agency, citing police officials, reported that Politkovskaya was shot twice, the second time in the head.

Citing investigators, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported that work was under way on a composite sketch of the attacker based on footage recorded by a security camera at the building. The assailant, believed to have acted alone, was clad in black, the AP reports.

The slaying took place at about 4:30 p.m. (1130GMT) in Politkovskaya's apartment building, Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper where she worked, told Ekho Moskvy radio. The newspaper is co-owned by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

NTV television reported that she was shot after entering the building and elevator.

Politkovskaya, a tireless investigative reporter and highly respected journalist, was well-known for chronicling the killings, tortures and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen in Chechnya in reports that put her on a collision course with the authorities but won her numerous international awards.

"People sometimes pay with their lives for saying out loud what they think. People can even get killed just for giving me information," Reporters Without Borders quoted her as saying at a press freedom conference in Vienna in December.

She also wrote a book critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military campaign in Chechnya, documenting widespread abuse of civilians by government troops. And she was a persistent critic of Chechnya' Moscow-backed Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, accusing his widely feared security force of kidnapping and torturing civilians.

"Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, almost every time the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya," said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

He said Politkovskaya had frequently received threats, and that a few months ago, unknown assailants had tried unsuccessfully to break into a car her daughter, Vera, was driving.

In 2001, she fled to Vienna, Austria, for several months after receiving e-mail threats alleging that a Russian police officer she had accused of committing atrocities against civilians was intent on revenge.

Police officer Sergei Lapin was detained in 2002 based on Politkovskaya's allegations but the case against him was closed the following year.

"There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya," Panfilov said, referring to Politkovskaya by her nickname.

Politkovskaya began reporting on Chechnya in 1999 during Russia's second military campaign there, concentrating less on military engagements than on the human side of the war. She wrote about the Chechen inhabitants of refugee camps and wounded Russian soldiers - until she was banned from visiting the hospitals, Panfilov said.

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, where many thought she was heading to mediate the crisis. Her colleagues suspected the incident was an attempt on her life.

She had been one of the few people to enter the Moscow theater where Chechen militants seized hundreds of hostages in October 2002 to try negotiating with the rebels. She later devoted much of her investigative reporting to that crisis, in which 129 victims died, the overwhelming majority succumbing to the gas used by special forces to knock out the hostage-takers. She likewise focused her investigative attention on the Beslan tragedy.

"Anna was a hero to so many of us, and we'll miss her personally, but we'll also miss the information that she and only she was brave enough and dedicated enough to dig out and make public, and that's a loss that I'm not sure can ever be replaced," said Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Politkovskaya's murder is the highest-profile killing of a journalist in Russia since the July 2004 slaying of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.

Russia has become one of the deadliest countries for journalists. Twenty-three journalists were killed in Russia between 1996 and 2005, many in Chechnya, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 12 have been murdered in contract-style killings since Putin came to power, Simon said.

"None of those have been adequately investigated," he said. "We do know that record creates an environment where those who might seek to carry out this murder would feel that there would be few likely consequences."

In addition to her daughter, Politkovskaya is survived by a son, Ilya, Panfilov said.


Sunday October 8, 2006

Assassin's bullet kills fiery critic of Putin

The woman who exposed the Kremlin's dirty war in Chechnya is found dead near her Moscow flat

Tom Parfitt in Moscow

Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who did most to uncover the Kremlin's dirty war in Chechnya, was shot dead close to her Moscow apartment yesterday in a killing that sent shock waves across Russia. Her body was found slumped in a lift next to a pistol and four bullets.

Politkovskaya, 48, was a constant critic of the Kremlin and her murder will throw suspicion on the security services and the pro-Moscow regime in Chechnya. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called the killing 'a grave crime against the country, against all of us'.

She was recognised around the world for her principled stand against two brutal wars prosecuted by Moscow in Chechnya that have left hundreds of thousands of people dead, injured or missing. Despite repeated threats to her life she vowed she would not be silenced: 'There are people in this country who would do anything to keep me quiet. I don't consider it anything heroic - I'm just trying to do my job, to let people know what's happening in our country.'

In an anthology 'Another Sky', due to be published next year by English PEN, a writers' group campaigning against political oppression, Politkovskaya chillingly predicted yesterday's events: 'Some time ago Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, explained that there were people who were enemies but whom you could talk sense into, and there were incorrigible enemies to whom you couldn't and who simply needed to be "cleansed" from the political arena. So they are trying to cleanse it of me and others like me.'

On a visit to Chechnya she alleged that the former President of the Chechen Republic Akhmad Kadyrov vowed to assassinate her. 'The women in the crowd tried to conceal me because they were sure the Kadyrov people would shoot me on the spot if they knew I was there,' she said 'They reminded me that Kadyrov publicly vowed to murder me. He actually said during a meeting of his government that Politkovskaya was a condemned woman. I was told about it by members of the government.'

Her 2003 book A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya was praised for its harrowing and detailed accounts of daily life in war-torn Chechnya. 'My notes are written for the future. They are the testimony of the innocent victims of the new Chechen war, which is why I record all the detail I can,' she wrote.

She remained defiant in the face of repeated threats but admitted she felt shaken by what she was convinced was a poisoning on a flight to cover the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004. She became unconscious on the plane after drinking a cup of tea and woke up hours later in intensive care. 'At one point, I didn't have a pulse and the doctors were sure I would die,' she said. 'It was miracle I survived.'

Her death came on the birthday of President Vladimir Putin and two days after one of her bitterest critics, the pro-Moscow prime minister of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the ex-President, had his 30th birthday, prompting speculation her life had been taken as a gift to both men. Yulia Latynina, a newspaper commentator who knew the journalist, said: 'All her publications of the last few months were about Chechnya and Kadyrov. Politkovskaya hated him. And two days ago was his birthday - from here can only be one motive.'

Toby Eady, her London literary agent, told The Observer he had recently tried to persuade Politkovskaya to leave Russia because of the threats. 'She said she would not leave Russia until Putin was gone. She actually asked, with deeply dark humour, what would happen to her advance if she was killed.'

There seemed little doubt that the journalist was killed for her cutting reportage from Chechnya, the Muslim republic that tried to break free from Russia in the early Nineties.

Last night police were reportedly hunting for a man in a baseball cap seen close the scene of the murder, which took place at about 4.30pm local time. Politkovskaya's blanket-covered corpse was carried out of the apartment block where she lived. A crowd of weeping people gathered at police cordons, placing roses and candles by the doorway.

Critics accused her of being partisan in her damning reports on the cruelty of Russian federal forces, but Politkovskaya did not hold back on criticism of the Chechen rebels' brutal tactics either. Her speciality, however, was exposing the horror, corruption and chaos wrought on civilian victims of the first war in Chechnya from 1994 to 1996 and the one that followed from 1999 onwards.

At a time when reporters from state-leaning publications were turning a blind eye, Politkovskaya went again and again to Chechnya documenting abuse of civilians by government troops. Her articles for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta won numerous international awards and she wrote two books about Chechnya, plus a highly critical political biography of Putin. She also wrote several dispatches for The Observer's sister paper, the Guardian.
 London -- Sunday October 8, 2006

Murder in Moscow: The shooting of Anna Politkovskaya

A discarded Makarov, pistol of choice for Russian hitmen, and four shells were found next to her body. Evidence that points to the assassination of the journalist who hounded Putin and was about to expose the Chechen PM

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Cole Moreton in London

A body found slumped in a Moscow lift. A discarded pistol and four spent shells. A mysterious thin man in a black baseball cap. The murder yesterday of Anna Politkovskaya, the most famous reporter in Russia, is a story as sinister as anything she investigated in her fearless, award-winning career.

The 48-year-old, lauded by journalists and writers around the world for her exposés in Chechnya, appears to have been assassinated. Her most powerful enemy was President Vladimir Putin. The murder came two days before she was due to publish an exposé of the Chechnyan Prime Minister.

The gun found near her apartment block in central Moscow was a 9mm Makarov, known as the weapon of choice for Russian hitmen. Police said they were searching for a man in his twenties dressed in a black cap, seen just before neighbours discovered her body in the lift.

Amnesty International said that it was "shocked, saddened and deeply angered" at the death of Politkovskaya, who had won its international media award in 2002. A spokesman said: "Russia has lost a great human- rights defender."

The deputy editor at the bi-weekly liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where she worked, said he believed the murder was linked to her work. "The first thing that comes to mind is that Anna was killed for her professional activities," said Vitaly Yaroshevsky. "We don't see any other motive."

The mother of two had received death threats before, but it was thought her gender and high profile might spare her the fate of others killed for writing uncomfortable truths since the fall of the Soviet Union.

She was the most high-profile journalist to be murdered since 2004 when the US-born editor of Forbes Russia, Paul Klebnikov, was killed in a drive-by shooting. Two years on, the identity and motives of his attackers remain unknown.

The British journalist Anne Applebaum, who has worked in Russia extensively, said: "It is terrible news. She was extremely brave. She kept on going to Chechnya even long after the Russian government had stopped protecting journalists there."

Politkovskaya was a loner who lived plainly, said Applebaum, and had a style of writing that was "thoroughly unsentimental and didn't romanticise things at all. She just documented the story in a cool fashion. She did an amazing story about the shocking, slovenly system of what happens to the bodies of Russian soldiers after they die, about how little anyone in the system cared."

Joan Smith, a columnist for this paper who knew Politkovskaya personally, said: "Anna had more courage than most of us can begin to imagine, and her death is a reminder of the violent state she exposed so vividly in Putin's Russia."

Smith last saw Polit- kovskaya at the British launch of her book on the President. It was sponsored by the writers' organisation PEN, which kept, "as far as we could, a watching brief on Anna, aware that her life was always in danger".

In February 2001, she was accused of being a spy for the now dead Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, the man who would claim to have masterminded the Beslan school siege. She was held in a pit for three days by the FSB security service without food or water. In 2002, she was involved in negotiating for the release of hostages during the Moscow theatre siege, something her critics claimed proved that she was too close to the Chechen rebels for her own good.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the subject of her next article, commands a private army and has been accused by human rights groups of being complicit in many thousand civilian "disappearances" in recent years. She claimed to have mobile phone footage proving his complicity in the murder of Russian servicemen and civilian kidnappings.

Smith said: "At the time of the Beslan siege, we heard the barely credible news that Anna had been poisoned by a cup of tea as she tried to reach the scene of the outrage. Now an assassin's bullets have silenced her quiet, forceful voice."
 Sunday October 8, 2006

Journalist Critical of Chechen War Is Shot Dead


MOSCOW, Oct. 7 - ­ Anna Politkovskaya, the veteran Russian journalist and author who made her name as a searing critic of the Kremlin and its policies in Chechnya, was found dead on Saturday in her apartment building, shot in the head with a pistol, the authorities and her colleagues said.

Anna Politkovskaya’s body was removed from her building Saturday (Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press).

Ms. Politkovskaya, 48, was a journalist with few equals in Russia. She was a special correspondent for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and had become one of the country’s most prominent human rights advocates.

In recent years, as the Russian news media faced intensifying pressure under the administration of President Vladimir V. Putin, she maintained her outspoken stance. And she became an international figure who often spoke abroad about a war she called “state versus group terrorism.”

She was a strident critic of Mr. Putin, whom she accused of stifling civil society and allowing a climate of official corruption and brutality.

She was found dead by a neighbor shortly after 5 p.m. A Makarov 9-millimeter pistol had been dropped at her side, the signature of a contract killing, Vitaly Yaroshevsky, the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, said in a telephone interview.

“We are certain that this is the horrible outcome of her journalistic activity,” he said. “No other versions are assumed.”

In Washington, the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said the United States “urges the Russian government to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation in order to find, prosecute and bring to justice all those responsible for this heinous murder.”

The former Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev, a shareholder of the newspaper where Ms. Politkovskaya worked, called her killing “a savage crime.”

“It is a blow to the entire democratic, independent press,” he told the Interfax news agency. “It is a grave crime against the country, against all of us.”

Accounts about where she died conflicted, with some law enforcement authorities saying she was found inside the entrance of her apartment building and others saying she was in the elevator.

The police said a security video camera had recorded the image of her presumed killer: a tall young man in dark clothes and a black baseball cap. They said a search for him had begun.

Ms. Politkovskaya, who had two adult children, had worked for Novaya Gazeta since 1999, and covered the second Chechen war and the terrorist siege of a Moscow theater in 2002. One of her books, “A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya,” recorded her impressions of the war’s unrelenting and often macabre cruelty, and the manifest corruption of many of its participants.

She wrote of torture, mass executions, kidnappings to gain ransom and to eliminate rebel suspects, and the sale by Russian soldiers of Chechen corpses to their families for proper Islamic burial. Her writing cemented her place as one of the war’s most vocal domestic critics.

“The army and police, nearly 100,000 strong, wander around Chechnya in a state of complete moral decay,” she wrote. “And what response could one expect but more terrorism, and the recruitment of new resistance fighters?”

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has been one of the world’s more difficult and dangerous countries for journalists. The climate has continued in recent years; at least 12 journalists have been killed in Russia in contract-style murders since 2000, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

None has been solved, including the contract killing in 2004 of Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of Forbes magazine’s Russian-language edition.

Ms. Politkovskaya had received death threats in the past, and at least once had left the country fearing for her safety. In 2004 she claimed to have been poisoned while en route on an airplane to cover the public school siege in Beslan; she passed out on the flight but survived. Mr. Yaroshevsky also said that Novaya Gazeta had briefly placed her under protective guard a few years ago.

But as prosecutors opened an investigation into what they called premeditated murder, her colleagues expressed astonishment that she had been killed in such a fashion, saying her public stature had seemed to lend her an aura of invincibility.

“She was doing such risky things for such a long time that it seemed she had transcended the danger,” said Tanya Lokshina, chairwoman of Center Demos, a Moscow-based human rights organization. “I am ashamed to say it, but we all felt she was next to a monument, and that she was an icon.”

Ms. Lokshina said she had been with Ms. Politkovskaya two weeks ago in Stockholm, and that nothing seemed out of order. “She never spoke about any current threats,” she said. “Everything seemed quite normal. She seemed happy and never referred to anything suspicious.”

Mr. Yaroshevsky said that Ms. Politkovskaya had been at work on Saturday finishing an article for the Monday paper about torturers in the government of Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin premier of Chechnya. He said the story included evidence and pictures.

In an interview in April with The New York Times, Ms. Politkovskaya said she had evidence of torture in Chechnya by Mr. Kadyrov’s police and other gunmen, including at least one witness who had been tortured by Mr. Kadyrov himself. Mr. Kadyrov has always vigorously denied such allegations.

Mr. Yaroshevsky said there were no immediate theories about who might be behind her killing, and noted that it might be convenient for an enemy of Mr. Kadyrov to kill Ms. Politkovskaya in order to blacken the Chechen premier’s name.

The paper had been expecting her to file the article on Saturday night, he said, and she had apparently been killed after she left her apartment for a trip to a nearby store. The RTR television station reported that investigators believed that she had been followed throughout the day.