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Archive for Monday, October 9, 2006

Russia to hunt journalist’s killers; colleagues skeptical of official probe

October 9, 2006

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— Russia has become a deadly place for journalists who run afoul of government officials or their business and political partners.

Those behind the killings, though, are rarely brought to justice, reinforcing a sense of impunity that may have encouraged the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the war in Chechnya.

As the European Union and the U.S. demanded a thorough probe into Saturday's contract-style killing, there was skepticism that the authorities would ever uncover the culprits of the latest in a series of killings of journalists in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, who has been increasingly accused of rolling back post-Soviet freedoms since coming to power in 2000.

The skepticism was underlined by the $929,700 reward for information that Novaya Gazeta has offered, signaling stronger faith in their own investigative efforts than those promised by the government, which has produced so few prosecutions before.

"Russia is a uniquely hostile place for the execution of independent journalism. It is both violent and repressive," said Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Politkov-skaya's editors said she had been due to publish an investigative article today about torture and kidnappings in Chechnya based on witness accounts and photos of tortured bodies.

She was at least the 43rd journalist killed for her work in Russia since 1993, according to CPJ, which has ranked Russia the third most deadly country for journalists, after Iraq and Algeria. Many were killed while reporting on the two wars in Chechnya, and six were caught up in fighting between government and opposition forces in 1993 in Moscow.

Many more appear to have been targeted because of their attempts to dig into allegations of corruption. The killers have rarely been found.

Politkovskaya's death was the most high-profile slaying of a journalist in Russia since the July 2004 assassination of Paul Klebnikov, the U.S.-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. That crime was believed linked to Klebnikov's investigation of the murky business world in Russia but remains unresolved; two ethnic Chechens accused of carrying it out were acquitted earlier this year.

Politkovskaya had angered powerful people - including Moscow-backed Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov and the Russian military - with her investigative reporting and human rights advocacy.

Novaya Gazeta said Sunday its reporters would conduct their own investigation, and it called Politkovskaya's slaying revenge for her coverage of Chechnya, which included the story planned for today.

"We never got the article, but she had evidence about these (abducted) people and there were photographs," Deputy Editor Vitaly Yerushensky told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Dozens of well-wishers came to lay flowers Sunday outside the entrance to Politkovskaya's apartment block in downtown Moscow and placed flowers and candles outside the newspaper offices.

Hundreds rallied in Moscow's Pushkin Square to protest her murder as well as the Russian crackdown on Georgians since a spy row erupted last week.

Underneath a photograph of Politkovskaya, one poster read: "The Kremlin has killed freedom of speech."

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