Goodbye to Anna Politkovskaya

A Russian journalist renowned for her fearlessness and integrity was gunned down in her apartment building this weekend.

Published October 9, 2006 8:57PM (EDT)

On Saturday, award-winning Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was shot and killed in the entryway of her apartment building in Moscow. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Russia is now the third deadliest country in the world for journalists, after Iraq and Algeria; in an editorial today, the International Herald Tribune notes that Politkovskaya is the 13th journalist to be killed in Russia since president Vladimir Putin was elected in December 1999. (In her blog at the Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel adds that 42 Russian journalists have been killed since 1992, "most in unsolved contract executions.")

Politkovskaya's murder most likely wasn't about her gender, but about her politics and commitment to press freedom. As a role model and fearless critic of corruption, her death is a huge loss. She had long reported on -- and endured death threats and attempts on her life for reporting on -- Russian Army abuses in Chechnya, and was working on an article about the use of torture in the Chechnya conflict. The IHT writes that her killing carries "the stench of a political assassination," noting that "police investigators seized all her research materials from her home and from her office at Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent newspapers still functioning in Moscow." Oleg Panfilov, a friend of Politkovskaya's and the head of the country's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said on Saturday that "whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya." Mikhail Gorbachev said, "It is a blow to the entire democratic, independent press. It is a grave crime against the country, against all of us."

After two days without comment on the murder, the Kremlin indicated today that President Putin plans an investigation of the crime. Politkovskaya's paper, Novaya Gazeta, has also pledged a reward of 25 million rubles (or $933,500) for information that leads to her killers. But given the current state of affairs in Russia, the IHT's editorial page remains skeptical: "It is hard to imagine that Putin's Kremlin, swollen with oil riches and power, could not quickly find those who ordered Politkovskaya's murder, or that of so many others," the paper says. "But it's hard to be optimistic."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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