Journalists Killed  |  Russia

Anna Politkovskaya

Novaya Gazeta

October 7, 2006, in Moscow, Russia

Politkovskaya, 48, a journalist renowned for her critical coverage of the Chechen conflict, was found slain in her apartment building in Moscow, according to international news reports. The Interfax news agency, citing police, said Politkovskaya had been shot and that a pistol and four bullet casings had been found.

Politkovskaya, special correspondent for the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was well known for her investigative reports on human rights abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya. In seven years covering the second Chechen war, Politkovskaya's reporting repeatedly drew the wrath of Russian authorities. She was threatened, jailed, forced into exile, and poisoned during her career, CPJ research shows.

Igor Korolkov, a colleague, told the Regnum news Web site that Politkovskaya had been reporting on alleged torture in Chechnya for a coming story.

CPJ had named Politkovskaya one of the world's top press freedom figures of the past 25 years in the fall 2006 edition of its magazine, Dangerous Assignments. In an interview for that profile, Politkovskaya noted the government's obstruction and harassment of journalists trying to cover the Chechen conflict and pointed to the deadly 2004 hostage crisis in the North Ossetian town of Beslan. "There is so much more to write about Beslan," she told CPJ, "but it gets more and more difficult when all the journalists who write are forced to leave."

Politkovskaya was poisoned on her way to cover the Beslan crisis. After drinking tea on a flight to the region, she became seriously ill and was hospitalized--but the toxin was never identified because the medical staff was instructed to destroy her blood tests.

Politkovskaya had been threatened and attacked numerous times in retaliation for her work. In February 2001, CPJ research shows, security agents detained her in the Vedeno district in Chechnya, accusing her of entering Chechnya without accreditation. She was kept in a pit for three days without food or water, while a military officer threatened to shoot her. Seven months later, she received death threats from a military officer accused of crimes against civilians. She was forced to flee to Vienna after the officer sent an e-mail to Novaya Gazeta promising that he would seek revenge.

When Politkovskaya covertly visited Chechnya in 2002 to investigate new allegations of human rights abuses, CPJ research shows, security officers arrested her, kept her overnight at a military base, and threatened her. In October of that year, Politkovskaya served as a mediator between armed Chechen fighters and Russian forces during a hostage standoff in a central Moscow theater. Two days into the crisis, with the Kremlin restricting media coverage, Russian forces gassed the theater and 129 hostages died. Politkovskaya delivered some of the most compelling accounts of the tragedy.

In 2009, a Moscow jury acquitted three suspected conspirators, the brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov and former Moscow police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov. Another Makhmudov brother, Rustam, whom authorities identified as the gunman, was at large at the time. Investigators acknowledged they had rushed a poorly prepared case to trial. An appellate court later granted a re-trial.

The case moved forward again in 2012, when prosecutors indicted Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, a retired police lieutenant colonel, on charges that he helped orchestrate the murder. Authorities accused Pavlyuchenkov, head of surveillance for Moscow's main police force in 2006, of ordering subordinates to follow Politkovskaya and determine her schedule and usual travel routes. The information was then passed along to the gang hired to kill the journalist, prosecutors said.

In December 2012, Pavlyuchenkov was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges that he was an accomplice in the plot. Family and colleagues were dismayed by the ruling, which came after a closed proceeding; lawyers for Politkovskaya's family said they would appeal. Colleagues and relatives had hoped Pavlyuchenkov would identify the masterminds in open court.

Following the verdict, investigators said they considered exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev to be the masterminds--an assertion dismissed by Politkovskaya's representatives as unfounded and politically motivated.

Five other suspects were in detention in late 2012, including all three Makhmudov brothers, former officer Khadzhikurbanov, and Chechen underground leader Lom-Ali Gaitukayev. Prosecutors said Gaitukayev served as the main organizer and liaison between the masterminds and Pavlyuchenkov.

Politkovskaya's family and colleagues expressed deep concern after Pavlyuchenkov's trial, saying that he failed to testify about the true masterminds of the crime or reveal details of its financing. "As a result," Novaya Gazeta Deputy Editor Sergey Sokolov said, "Pavlyuchenkov did everything to cut any possibility of netting the true key culprits in Anna Politkovskaya's murder."

Medium: Print

Job: Print Reporter

Beats Covered: Corruption, Human Rights, War

Gender: Female

Local or Foreign: Local

Freelance: No

Type of Death: Murder

Suspected Source of Fire: Unknown Fire

Impunity: Partial

Taken Captive: No

Tortured: No

Threatened: Yes

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