New York, October 10, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s belated public condemnation today of journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s murder but called on him to express unambiguous support for the criminal investigation.
“Whoever has committed this crime and whatever their guiding motives, we should state that this is a horribly cruel crime. It must not remain unpunished, of course,” Putin told reporters during a visit to Germany. But he sought to play down the significance of Politkovskaya’s internationally acclaimed investigative journalism.
“This journalist was a severe critic of the incumbent authorities in Russia; she was well known among journalists and human rights campaigners and in the West. However, her influence on the country’s political life… was minimal,” Putin added.
Putin had not spoken publicly about the murder and the Russian government has sent mixed signals about its support for the ongoing investigation. No senior Kremlin officials attended her funeral today in Moscow despite the presence of foreign diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador.
Politkovskaya, 48, a long-time critic of Putin and his policies in Chechnya, was shot Saturday outside the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.
“The Russian government’s indifference towards the murder of 13 journalists in contract style killings including the country’s leading investigative reporter is shameful,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Given the political realities in Russia no investigation can succeed without the complete and unequivocal support of President Putin. His backhanded attack on Politkovskaya’s influence and credibility belies his commitment to justice. This is not just another murder. It is a direct attack on independent journalism in Russia and the public’s right to know.”
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.
At the time of her death, Politkovskaya was working on a story about torture in Chechnya under Kremlin-appointed Chechnya Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.
Russia’s General Prosecutor Yuri Chaika said he would head an investigation into the murder, according to international press reports. Russian journalists are skeptical the killers will be brought to justice. “Over the past 10 or 12 years, not a single murder of a journalist linked to his or her professional activity has been solved,” Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Novaya Gazeta pledged to conduct its own investigation. The newspaper is offering a 25- million-ruble (US$930,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of her killer.
Police released a security video of the suspected hit man made at the entrance of Politkovskaya’s apartment building but they are unable to create a clear composite sketch of the killer, the independent Moscow daily Kommersant reported.
According to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, the killer knew the code to Politkovskaya’s building and waited for the reporter at the elevator. Police recovered fingerprints of the suspect at the murder scene, local press reported. According to investigators, the killer may have had multiple accomplices.
Politkovskaya is the thirteenth journalist to be killed in a contract-style murder since President Putin took office. No one has ever been convicted of killing these journalists, CPJ research shows. For more information click here: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2005/russia_murders/russia_murders.html
Russia is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists over the past 15 years, behind only the conflict-ridden countries of Iraq and Algeria. A CPJ report released before the murder found that 42 journalists had been killed in Russia since 1992, many of them slain in contract-style executions and the vast majority unsolved by Russian authorities. The report is available at http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2006/deadly_news/deadly_news.html