|Photo by Tatyana Zelenskaya, 2004|
|Born||Anna Stepanovna Mazepa
30 August 1958
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||7 October 2006 (aged 48)
|Nationality||Russian and American citizenship|
|Ethnicity||Father of Ukrainian descent|
|Alma mater||Moscow State University|
|Subjects||Politics, freedom of press, human rights, social issues|
|Notable work(s)||Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy|
|Notable award(s)||Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism
Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya (30 August 1958 - 7 October 2006) was a Russian journalist, author and human rights activist well known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and then-President of Russia Vladimir Putin. On 7 October 2006, she was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building, an unsolved assassination that continues to attract international attention.
Politkovskaya made her name reporting from Chechnya. Her constant stream of articles after 1999 about conditions in Chechnya were turned into several books but Russian readers' main access to her investigations and publications was through Novaya gazeta. From 2000 onwards she received numerous prestigious international awards for her work. In 2004 she published a personal account of Putin's Russia.
Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazeppa in New York City in 1958. Her parents were Soviet Ukrainian, and both worked as diplomats at the United Nations. Anna grew up in Moscow and graduated in 1980 from the Moscow State University's faculty of journalism. While there she defended a thesis about the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva and married fellow student Alexander Politkovsky. They had two children, Vera and Ilya. At first Alexander was the better-known, joining TV journalist Vladislav Listyev as one of the hosts on Vzglyad, the late-night TV programme. Apart from her childhood years, Politkovskaya spent no more than a few weeks out of Russia, at any one time, even when her life came under threat. She acquired a US passport but did not cease to be a Russian citizen.
Politkovskaya worked for Izvestia from 1982 to 1993 and as a reporter and editor of emergencies/accidents section, then later (1994–1999) as assistant chief editor of Obshchaya Gazeta headed by Yegor Yakovlev where she wrote frequently about social problems and, in particular, the plight of refugees. From June 1999 to 2006, she wrote columns for the biweekly Novaya gazeta, a paper with strong investigative reporting and critical from the outset of the new post-1991 regime. She published several award-winning books about Chechnya, life in Russia, and President Putin's regime, including Putin's Russia.
Widely acclaimed for her reporting from Chechnya, Politkovskaya won a number of prestigious awards for her work. She used each of these occasions to urge greater concern and responsibility by Western governments which, after 9/11, welcomed Putin's contribution to their "war on terror". She said about herself that she was not an investigating magistrate but somebody who describes the life of the citizens for those who cannot see it for themselves, because what is shown on television and written about in the overwhelming majority of newspapers is emasculated and doused with ideology. She talked to officials, the military and the police and also frequently visited hospitals and refugee camps, in Chechnya and in neighbouring Ingushetia, to interview those injured and uprooted by the renewed fighting.
In numerous articles critical of the war in Chechnya, and the new pro-Kremlin regime there, Politkovskaya described alleged abuses committed by Russian military forces, Chechen rebels, and the Russian-backed administration led by Akhmad Kadyrov and his son Ramzan Kadyrov. She also chronicled human rights abuses and policy failures elsewhere in the North Caucasus. In one characteristic instance she not only wrote about the plight of an ethnically-mixed old people's home under bombardment in Grozny in 1999 but, with the aid of her newspaper and public support, she helped to secure the safe evacuation of its elderly inhabitants. Her articles, many of which form the basis of A Dirty War (2001) and A Small Corner of Hell (2003), depict a conflict that brutalised both Chechen fighters and conscript soldiers in the federal army, and created hell for the civilians caught between them. As Politkovskaya reported, the order supposedly restored under the Kadyrovs, became a regime of endemic torture, abduction and murder, either by the new Chechen authorities or the various federal forces based in Chechnya. One of her last investigations was into the alleged mass poisoning of Chechen school children by a strong and unknown chemical substance which incapacitated them for many months.
After Politkovskaya became widely known in the West she was commissioned to write Putin's Russia (later subtitled Life in a Failing Democracy), a broader account of her views and experiences after former KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Putin became prime minister to Boris Yeltsin and then succeeded him as president. Naturally, this included Putin's pursuit of the Second Chechen War. In the book, she accused the Russian secret service, FSB, of stifling all civil liberties in order to establish a Soviet-style dictatorship, but admitted "[It] is we who are responsible for Putin's policies...[s]ociety has shown limitless apathy...[a]s the Chekists have become entrenched in power, we have let them see our fear, and thereby have only intensified their urge to treat us like cattle. The KGB respects only the strong. The weak it devours. We of all people ought to know that." She also wrote:
In May 2007, posthumously, Random House published Anna Politkovskaya's A Russian Diary, containing extracts from her notebook and other writings. Subtitled A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia, the book gives her account of the period from December 2003 to August 2005, including what she described as "the death of Russian parliamentary democracy", the Beslan school hostage crisis, and the "winter and summer of discontent" from January to August 2005. Because she was murdered "while translation was being completed, final editing had to go ahead without her help," wrote translator Arch Tait in a note to the book. "Who killed Anna and who lay beyond her killer remains unknown," wrote UK Channel 4's main news anchor Jon Snow, in his foreword to the book's UK edition. "Her murder robbed too many of us of absolutely vital sources of information and contact," he concluded. "Yet it may, ultimately, be seen to have at least helped prepare the way for the unmasking of the dark forces at the heart of Russia's current being. I must confess that I finished reading A Russian Diary feeling that it should be taken up and dropped from the air in vast quantities throughout the length and breadth of Mother Russia, for all her people to read."
Politkovskaya was closely involved in attempts to negotiate the release of hostages in the Moscow theater hostage crisis of 2002. When the Beslan school hostage crisis erupted in the North Caucasus in early September 2004, Anna Politkovskaya attempted to fly there to act as a mediator but was taken off the plane, acutely ill in Rostov-on-Don (see Poisoning).
In Moscow, she was not invited to press conferences or gatherings that Kremlin officials might attend, in case the organizers were suspected of harboring sympathies toward her. Despite this, many top officials allegedly talked to her when she was writing articles or conducting investigations. According to one of her articles, they did talk to her, "but only when they weren't likely to be observed: outside in crowds, or in houses that they approached by different routes, like spies". She also claimed that the Kremlin tried to block her access to information and discredit her: "I will not go into the other joys of the path I have chosen, the poisoning, the arrests, the threats in letters and over the Internet, the telephoned death threats, the weekly summons to the prosecutor general's office to sign statements about practically every article I write (the first question being, 'How and where did you obtain this information?'). Of course I don't like the constant derisive articles about me that appear in other newspapers and on Internet sites presenting me as the madwoman of Moscow. I find it disgusting to live this way. I would like a bit more understanding."
After Politkovskaya's murder her colleague at Novaya gazeta Vyacheslav Izmailov (a military man who had helped negotiate the release of dozens of hostages in Chechnya before 1999) said that he knew of at least nine previous occasions when Anna had faced death, and commented, "Frontline soldiers do not usually go into battle so often and survive".
Politkovskaya herself did not deny being afraid but felt as responsible and concerned for those who were her informants. While attending a conference on the freedom of press organized by Reporters Without Borders in Vienna in December 2005, Politkovskaya said: "People sometimes pay with their lives for saying aloud what they think. In fact, one can even get killed for giving me information. I am not the only one in danger. I have examples that prove it." She often received death threats as a result of her work, including being threatened with rape and experiencing a mock execution after being arrested by the military in Chechnya.
Early in 2001 Politkovskaya was detained by military officials in the southern mountain village of Khottuni. Politkovskaya was investigating complaints from 90 Chechen families about "punitive raids" by federal forces. She interviewed a Chechen grandmother Rosita from a village of Tovzeni who endured 12 days of beatings, electric shocks and confinement in a pit. The men who arrested Rosita presented themselves as FSB employees. The torturers requested a ransom from Rosita's relatives who negotiated a smaller amount that they were able to pay. Another interviewee described killings and rapes of Chechen men in a "concentration camp with a commercial streak" near the village of Khottuni.
Upon leaving the camp, Politkovskaya was detained, interrogated, beaten and humiliated by Russian troops. "...the young officers tortured me, skillfully hitting my sore spots. They looked through my children's pictures, making a point of saying what they would like to do to the kids. This went on for about three hours." She was subjected to a mock execution using a BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket system, then poisoned with a cup of tea that made her vomit. Her tape records were confiscated. She described her mock execution:
After the mock execution, the Russian lieutenant colonel said to her: "Here's the banya. Take off your clothes." Seeing that his words had no effect, he got very angry: "A real lieutenant colonel is courting you, and you say no, you militant bitch."
In 2006 European Court of Human Rights found Russian Federation responsible for the forced disappearance of an Ingush militant suspect Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev. Colonel-General Alexander Baranov, the commander of the Russian Kavkaz deployment mentioned by Politkovskaya's camp guide as the one who ordered captured militants to be kept in the pits, was caught on video as he ordered Yandiyev to be executed.
While flying south in September 2004 to help in negotiations with those who had taken over a thousand hostages in a school in Beslan (North Ossetia), Politkovskaya fell violently ill and lost consciousness after drinking tea. She had been reportedly poisoned, with some accusing the former Soviet secret police poison facility.
In 2001, Politkovskaya fled to Vienna, following e-mail threats that a police officer whom she had accused of atrocities against civilians in Chechnya was looking to take revenge. Corporal Sergei Lapin was arrested and charged in 2002, but the case against him was closed the following year. In 2005, Lapin was convicted and jailed for torturing and disappearing[clarification needed] a Chechen civilian detainee, the case exposed by Anna Politkovskaya in the article "Disappearing People".
In 2004, Politkovskaya had a conversation with Chechnya's then prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov. One of his assistants said to her: "Someone ought to have shot you back in Moscow, right on the street, like they do in your Moscow". Ramzan repeated after him: "You're an enemy. To be shot...".. On the day of her murder, said Novaya Gazeta's chief editor Dmitry Muratov, Politkovskaya had planned to file a lengthy story on torture practices believed to be used by Chechen security detachments known as Kadyrovites. In the last interview of her life she described Kadyrov, now president of Chechnya, as the "Chechen Stalin of our days" .
Politkovskaya was found dead in the elevator of her apartment in central Moscow on Saturday, 7 October 2006. She had been shot twice in the chest, once in the shoulder, and once in the head at point blank range. The funeral was held on Tuesday, 10 October, at 2:30 p.m., at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery. Before Politkovskaya was laid to rest, more than one thousand filed past her coffin to pay their last respects.
Dozens of Politkovskaya's colleagues, public figures and admirers of her work gathered at a cemetery on the outskirts of Moscow for the funeral. No high-ranking Russian officials could be seen at the ceremony. Anna was buried not far from her father who had died a short while before. (The grave of murdered journalist Dmitry Kholodov is in the same cemetery.) There was widespread international reaction. Some of her colleagues and friends accused the Russian authorities of negligence in doing nothing to prevent her murder, or even of actual involvement in her assassination.
In May 2007 a large posthumous collection of Anna's articles, entitled With Good Reason, was published by Novaya gazeta and launched at the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow (see Bibliography, Noting but the Truth, 2010). The event came soon after the birth of Anna's latest grandchild: Vera's little daughter was named Anna in honour of her grandmother. A few months later ten men were detained, on suspicion of various degrees of involvement in the murder of Politkovskaya. Four of them were brought before the Moscow District Military Court in October 2008.
Three men were charged with directly aiding Politkovskaya's killer (allegedly, the brother of two of them). There was insufficient evidence to charge the fourth man, an FSB colonel, over the murder though he was suspected of a leading role in its organisation; he stood trial at the same time for another offence. The case was held before a jury (a rare occurrence in Russia) and, after the jurors insisted, was open to the press and public.
On 25 November 2008, it was reported that Politkovskaya's murder might have been ordered by a politician inside Russia. Murad Musayev, a lawyer for the men on trial, told journalists that the case notes, as one of the interpretations of the crime, mentioned that a politician, based in Russia (but not named in those notes), was behind her death. (In 2007 the Prosecutor General Yury Chaika had suggested that the businessman Boris Berezovsky had a hand in the killing.)
On 5 December 2008, Sergei Sokolov, a senior editor of Novaya Gazeta, testified in court that he had received information from sources he would not name that defendant Dzhabrail Makhmudov was an agent of the FSB; he said Makhmudov's uncle Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, who was serving a 12-year jail sentence for the attempted murder of a Ukrainian businessman, also worked for the FSB.
After the acquittal in February 2009 of all those on trial for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, her children Vera and Ilya, their lawyers Karinna Moskalenko and Anna Stavitskaya, and senior Novaya gazeta editor Sergei Sokolov gave their reaction to the trial at a press conference in Moscow . In his comments on the end of the trial, Andrew McIntosh, Chairman of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly–s Sub-Committee on the Media and PACE Rapporteur on media freedom, expressed frustration at what he perceived to be a lack of progress in investigating the murder, or the inability of the Russian authorities to find her killers:
Two years ago, in its Resolution 1535 (2007), the Assembly called on the Russian Parliament to closely monitor the progress in the criminal investigations regarding the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and hold the authorities accountable for any failures to investigate or prosecute. The closure of the trial yesterday can only be regarded as a blatant failure. I call on the Russian authorities and Parliament to relaunch a proper investigation and shed light on this murder, which undermines not only freedom of expression in Russia, but also its democratic foundation based on the rule of law. There are no excuses for these flawed investigations into murders of politically critical journalists writing against corruption and crime within government, such as the murders of Georgy Gongadze in Ukraine in 2000 and Paul Klebnikov in Moscow in 2004.
Before the trial ended Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who had investigated many of the abuses documented by Politkovskaya, was assassinated in Moscow on 19 January 2009, with journalist Anastasia Baburova. Baburova was a freelance contributor to Politkovskaya's newspaper and Markelov represented Novaya gazeta on many occasions. In November 2009 the first public results of the investigation into the double shooting suggested that the murders had no immediate connection to the Politkovskaya assassination.
More closely related to Anna Politkovskaya's work as a journalist was the murder on 15 July 2009 of Natalia Estemirova. A board member of the Memorial human rights organisation, and one of Politkovskaya's key informants, guides and colleagues in Chechnya, Estemirova  was abducted in Grozny and found dead, several hours later, in neighbouring Ingushetia. All three murders highlighted the impunity with which such activists were being killed (see List of journalists killed in Russia). After the first killing Dmitry Muratov asked publicly for his journalists to be trained to defend themselves, with firearms if necessary. When Estemirova's death was followed in August by the killing in Grozny of two more human rights activists, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Umar Dzhabrailov, Novaya gazeta announced it could no longer take the risk of sending its journalists to Chechnya.
The Chechen authorities expressed their offence at this "slur". In an interview with Radio Liberty Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov voiced attitudes to the late Natalya Estemirova that contradicted his earlier expressions of public concern and regret. She was a woman, he said, who had "never possessed any honour, dignity or conscience".
On 5 August the objection of the prosecution service to the acquittals in the Politkovskaya trial case was upheld by the Supreme Court and a new trial was ordered.
In 2008, Swiss director Eric Bergkraut made a documentary, Letter to Anna, about Politkovskaya's life and death. It includes interviews with her son Ilya, her daughter Vera, her ex-husband Alexander Politkovsky and others such as businessman Boris Berezovsky and film-maker Andrei Nekrasov.
In 2007 to mark the first anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's murder Reach all Women in War (RAW in WAR), a human rights organisation which focuses on stopping violence against women in war and conflict, set up the "Anna Politkovskaya Award". The award is intended to honour female human rights activists who, like Politkovskaya, live a life of courage and truth-telling in the face of grave danger, standing up for the victims of conflict, often at great personal risk.
The first Anna Politkovskaya Award was presented to her friend and colleague, Natalia Estermirova. She was Politkovskaya's most frequent companion during her travel and journalistic investigations in Chechnya, shedding light on human rights abuses for Memorial, Russia's oldest human rights organisation. Estemirova too was abducted and murdered on 15th July 2009. To date neither of the murders has been solved.
The recipient of the second Award was Malalai Joya, the youngest elected member of Afghanistan's national parliament in 2005 who spoke out against ex-mujahadeen warlords at the age of 25. Her life has been in danger ever since she challenged the warlords and demanded they be brought to justice for the crimes committed against civilians, especially women, however, Joya continues to fight, saying no amount of intimidation will stop her efforts.
The 2009 Award was given to the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality in Iran, a grassroots campaign that aims to collect signatures of Iranian nationals to a petition demanding an end to legal discrimination against women in Iran. Although campaigning peacefully and legally, activists often face regular harassment and persecution and are subject to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and charged with acting 'against national security.'
A group of more than 100 influential cultural and political leaders have joined the Award's Committee of Supporters, including President Vaclav Havel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel laureates Mairead Maguire and Shirin Ebadi.
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