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Murdered Russian Journalist Was Finishing Article on Torture in Checnnya — Editor

Mos News | October 9 2006

A journalist shot to death in an apparent contract killing was about to publish a story about torture and abductions in Chechnya when she was slain, her editor said Sunday as Russia's top prosecutor took charge of the case, AP reports.

Anna Politkovskaya, famed for her unsparing coverage of abuses against civilians in Chechnya in the outspoken newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was found dead Saturday in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. She had two gunshot wounds — one to the head.

Politkovskaya, 48, had collected witness accounts and photos of tortured bodies and the article had been due for publication Monday, her newspaper's editors said.

“We never got the article, but she had evidence about these (abducted) people and there were photographs,” Novaya Gazeta's deputy editor, Vitaly Yerushensky, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

In a recent radio interview, Politkovskaya said that she was a witness in a criminal case against Moscow-backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whose security forces have been accused of kidnapping civilians and other abuses.

“These are cases of kidnappings, including one criminal case concerning an abduction personally involving Ramzan Kadyrov, a kidnapping of two people, whose photographs are now on my desk,” she said in comments rebroadcast Sunday by Ekho Moskvy.

In the interview, which Ekho Mosvky said had been granted to Radio Free Europe, she said that the victims, an ethnic Russian and a Chechen, were “rounded up, kidnapped for a time and killed. Their bodies showed signs of serious torture.”

Politkovskaya was one of the most persistent critics of Kadyrov's security forces, but she had crossed many powerful people, including in the Russian military, with her investigative reporting and human rights advocacy.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was shocked and profoundly saddened by the murder of a journalist who devoted much of her career to “shining a light on human rights abuses and other atrocities of the war in Chechnya” and the plight of Chechen refugees.

“One thing that immediately comes to mind ... is that Anna had many enemies, said Joel Simon, executive director of the New-York based CPJ.

On its Web site, the biweekly Novaya Gazeta wrote that the killing was either revenge by Kadyrov or an attempt to discredit him.

The execution-style killing underlined the increasingly dangerous environment for journalists working in Russia since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, launching a crackdown on media freedoms. Her death brings to at least 13 the number of journalists killed in contract-style killings in the past six years, according to the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists.

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.

Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika on Sunday took personal charge of the investigation, his office said, citing the ”particular importance (of the case) and wide resonance within society.“

The Interfax news agency quoted law enforcement sources as saying that investigators would include the ”Chechen trail“ as part of their probe into Politkovskaya's death.

Her colleagues at the hard-hitting newspaper said that they would launch their own investigation, reflecting skepticism that the official inquiry would ever find the killers.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev condemned the journalist's killing as ”a blow to the entire, democratic, independent press.“

The 46-nation Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog whose executive body is currently led by Russia, called for her death to be investigated quickly and convincingly.

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov said he was ”shocked“ at Politkovskaya's killing, Interfax reported.

Politkovskaya had come under threat repeatedly. 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. Her colleagues suspected the incident was an attempt on her life.

Politkovskaya, who had two adult children, 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.

Despite the end of large-scale fighting, Russia remains locked in guerrilla conflict with a hardcore of separatist rebels and allegations of kidnappings, torture and murder of civilians blamed on Russian forces and their Chechen allies persist.

 

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