Saturday, October 07, 2006

More on the Murder of Anna Politkovskaya

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A man lays flowers in front of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya's house where she was found dead in central Moscow October 7, 2006.

MOSCOW, Russia (AP) -- A Russian journalist known for her critical coverage of the war in Chechnya was shot to death Saturday in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow, in a killing prosecutors believe could be connected to her investigative work.

Anna Politkovskaya was a tireless reporter who had written a critical book on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his campaign in Chechnya, documenting widespread abuse of civilians by government troops.

Prosecutors have opened a murder investigation into her death, said Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor's Office. Investigators suspect the killing was connected to the work of the 48-year-old journalist, Vyacheslav Raskinsky, Moscow's first deputy prosecutor, said on state-run Rossiya television.

Politkovskaya's body was found in an elevator in her Moscow apartment building, a duty officer at a police station in central Moscow told The Associated Press. Raskinsky 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.

Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said Politkovskaya had frequently received threats. A few months ago, unknown assailants had tried unsuccessfully to break into the car her daughter Vera was driving.

In 2001, Politkovskaya fled to Vienna 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. The officer, Sergei Lapin, was detained in 2002 based on her allegations but the case against him was closed the following year.

"Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, almost every time the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya," Panfilov said.

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

More than any other Russian reporter, Politkovskaya has chronicled killings, tortures and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen -- reports that put her on a collision course with the authorities.

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

Politkovskaya 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 in 2004, where many thought she was heading to mediate the crisis. Her colleagues had suggested the incident was an attempt on her life.

She was one of the few people to have entered the Moscow theater where Chechen militants took hundreds of hostages in October 2002 and tried to negotiate with the rebels.

"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 death is the highest-profile killing of a journalist in Russia since they July 2004 slaying of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.

Russia has become one of the deadliest places for journalists. Twenty-three journalists were killed in the country between 1996 and 2005, many in Chechnya, according to CPJ. 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.

During her career, Politkovskaya received more than 10 awards and prizes, including an award for human rights reporting from the London-based Amnesty International; a freedom of speech award from the Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders; and a journalism and democracy award from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

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Don't think for me. Don't assume what I want to hear or read. Give me facts. Give me reasons. But not yours. Bring me debate. Enlighten me. Today, accountability is masked behind anonymity; bylines are hidden by zeros and ones. Everyone publishes; everyone is "in the know." Ethics are non-existent. Speculation is king. The truth is masked and a hostage. Empowered by our minds, WE ARE THE FREAKSPEAKERS!


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