Saturday, October 14, 2006

Another martyr for press freedom

This SPIEGEL ONLINE article is a fairly in-depth look at the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya (who actually was American-born and of Ukrainian descent).

Very grim situation for press freedom in that part of the world. It hasn't progressed much, really, from Stalinist times.

... Only a few weeks before Politkovskaya's murder, Andrei Kozlov, a Central Bank official who had spearheaded a crusade against money laundering, was also gunned down in Moscow. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Politkovskaya was the 13th reporter to be assassinated since President Vladimir Putin came to power.

... For years, she had courageously exposed human-rights abuses in Russia and particularly in the North Caucasus region that includes Chechnya, making frequent trips to the war-torn area. She wrote, often in harrowing detail, of topics that have become off-limits for nearly all other journalists in Russia and broke the biggest taboo of all by criticizing Putin himself.

... As part of their investigation into her killing, police seized documents from Politkovskaya's home and office, as well as her computer, leaving her editors with no way of knowing how much work she'd left unfinished.

Born and raised in New York, where her Ukrainian parents were U.N. diplomats, Politkovskaya was a product of the Soviet elite. After the collapse of the Soviet Union she could have, like many of her generation, used her connections to build a comfortable lifestyle. Instead, she threw herself into independent journalism, ending up at Novaya Gazeta in 1999 -- just in time for the second Chechen war. By her own admission, she became obsessed with exposing the killings, torture and beatings of civilians by Russian soldiers in Chechnya. She wrote two books on the conflict, "
A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya" and "A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches From Chechnya."

She made no secret of her contempt for Kadyrov or for Putin, and critics in Russia frequently accused her of lacking objectivity. In "Putin's Russia," a highly critical political biography of the president published in 2004, she accused Putin of failing to shake off his past as a KGB agent in East Germany.

... Politkovskaya won numerous international awards, but as she gained prominence abroad, she was increasingly marginalized at home. There was clearly an appetite for her kind of reporting -- in the last three years Novaya Gazeta's circulation has risen from 130,000 to 170,000 copies ... But in a country of 140 million spread across 11 time zones, the paper's impact was minimal. More than 80 percent of Russians get their news from national television networks -- all of which have come under Kremlin control in the past five years. Prominent national newspapers ... have also been scooped up by state-controlled companies or businessmen with close links to the Kremlin. And in the state-friendly media, Politkovskaya was persona non grata.

There has been no shortage of speculation about who might have wanted her dead. Novaya Gazeta ... has written that it believes her murder was either revenge by Kadyrov, or an attempt to discredit him. ... Politkovskaya's name was also on numerous lists of "enemies of the state" published on the Internet by ultra-nationalists angered by her support of Chechens. The pro-Kremlin media have been pushing a theory that she was killed in an attempt by exiled enemies of Putin to discredit Russia internationally and provoke instability.

... Putin himself has backed that hypothesis. ... According to Reuters, Putin had promised on Monday to "take every step to investigate objectively the tragic death" of Politkovskaya.

... Few expect any of the theories of her death will ever be proven right or wrong, or that Politkovskaya's killers will be brought to justice. Of all the investigations into high-profile slayings of Russian journalists in recent years, not one has resulted in a conviction.

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