Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Death of the woman who shamed Moscow

By Aussiegirl

Here's another excellent article about Politkovskaya from the Sunday Times, written by a reporter who knew her. It sounds as though her parents were Ukrainian.

Death of the woman who shamed Moscow - Sunday Times - Times Online

RUSSIA’S most famous investigative reporter, Anna Politkovskaya, was gunned down in the lift of her Moscow apartment block yesterday in an apparent contract killing.

A fearless opponent of Russia’s wars in Chechnya who once described President Vladimir Putin as a “KGB snoop” and compared him to Stalin, she was shot as she returned home from a shopping trip at 4.30pm. A pistol and four bullets were found near her body.

She was the most prominent of dozens of Russian journalists murdered in the past 10 years and her death has dealt a serious blow to the country’s reputation.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president, said: “It’s a strike against all the democratic independent press, a terrible crime against the entire country, against all of us.”

Last night police were hunting a young man who was caught on a video camera in the hall of the apartment block wearing a black baseball cap. Officers said the killer, whose face is not visible on the footage, followed Politkovskaya inside as she unloaded the shopping from her car, and killed her with two shots to the chest and head.

Politkovskaya, 48 and divorced with a son and a daughter, was one of the few Russian journalists who dared to write critically about widespread human rights abuses in Chechnya. She won international acclaim for her reports but was hated by many in Russia’s security forces.

I met Politkovskaya on many occasions to discuss Chechnya. Bespectacled and deeply serious, she resembled a strict schoolteacher rather than a glamorous war reporter inured to intimidation and flying bullets.

She was profoundly affected by the victims of war and seemed haunted by their suffering. To her, reporting was far more than a job — she saw it as a moral obligation.

Unlike most reporters, she often crossed the line between journalism and personal involvement. At the height of the bombing of Chechnya, she once bravely negotiated the safe passage of dozens of elderly civilians trapped in Grozny, the Chechen capital.

She had received numerous threats and two years ago was apparently poisoned on her way to Beslan during the school siege that ended with more than 300 deaths.

“I am not on a crusade,” she once told me. “But I feel that someone has to write about what is happening in our country. In Chechnya unspeakable war crimes have been committed but hardly anyone has the guts to write about it. I don’t want my son to grow up in a country which allows such things to happen.”

Vitaly Yaroshevsky, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, her newspaper, said there was no doubt she had been killed because of her work. “This is a professional murder,” he said. “Her reporting made her many enemies.”

In an interview two years ago she stated prophetically: “I’m absolutely sure that risk is a usual part of my job — of the job of a Russian journalist — and I cannot stop because it is my duty.”

Politkovskaya, who was born in New York while her Soviet Ukrainian parents were working as diplomats at the United Nations, became renowned for her courageous campaigning after the fall of communism.

Dirty War, her book on the conflict in Chechnya, provoked fury in the security forces. In Dirty Russia, another book, she claimed Putin was rolling back democracy and clamping down on media freedom.

She had been especially critical of his backing of Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Russian Chechen prime minister, whose forces she accused of a wave of kidnappings and extra-judicial killings.

Yaroshevsky said Politkovskaya had recently written many articles on Kadyrov, who is widely

expected to become president of Chechnya. She had been due to publish her next story on his regime tomorrow. “She was writing that in Chechnya a bandit state is being created. She wrote that political opponents of the regime are being persecuted,” said her editor.

At the height of the war in Chechnya, Politkovskaya was detained by Russian security forces for three days. She was held in a pit without food and water and endured a mock execution.

In 2001, she 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 Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said that a few months ago unknown assailants had tried to break into a car being driven by her daughter, Vera.

At a time when most of Russia’s press has been muzzled by the Kremlin, Politkovskaya was a relatively rare dissenting voice.

She delivered regular warnings that the country was drifting back to a Soviet-style dictatorship. She also wrote critically about the arrest and trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil tycoon jailed after falling out with the Kremlin.

Her dedication led to the breakdown of her marriage. She returned home from Chechnya one day to hear her husband tell her: “I can’t take this any more.”

Alexei Malashenko, a political commentator who knew her well, said last night: “This is a political murder. She uncovered the truth no matter how powerful the people she wrote about are. If the state killed her, we don’t need such a state. If someone else silenced her, it’s a matter of honour for the state to track down her killers.”


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