In a November 2007 interview, just before receiving CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the embattled Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, recalled the loss of three colleagues to work-related murders in six years. "We have suffered war-like casualties," Muratov said.
First, Igor Domnikov was murdered: "They beat him to death using hammers at the entrance of his apartment building." Then Muratov's deputy, Yuri Shchekochikhin, died from mysterious poisoning: "Within one week, he turned from a youthful man into a frail, old person with no hair on his head and at one-third of his normal weight." Then Anna Politkovskaya was shot to death.
"These were three pillars, three islands, on which the newspaper was standing--Domnikov, Shchekochikhin, and Politkovskaya," Muratov concluded. The portraits of the three hang from a wall in Novaya's main lobby--silent participants in the staff meetings that take place there at least twice a week around a large wooden table.
On Monday, Novaya suffered
one more "battle casualty"--25-year-old Anastasiya Baburova, a student in her
last year studying journalism at Moscow State University who had worked for the
paper part-time since October, covering the rise of ultranationalist groups in
Russia, was shot and killed in downtown Moscow. Baburova was talking to human
rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov after a news conference he had given to criticize
the early release of a Russian ex-colonel imprisoned for committing a grave
Baburova's murder seems to have been the last straw for Novaya Gazeta, the last act to lay bare the harsh truth--that despite government pledges that journalists will be protected, that rule of law is an utmost priority of the Medvedev-Putin administration, that crimes against reporters will be investigated to the end--journalists (and now their lawyers, too) in Russia are at risk of being slaughtered brazenly, in broad daylight, and with impunity.
And so yesterday's announcement by Novaya Gazeta shareholder Aleksandr Lebedev that the paper intends
to appeal for official permission to carry weapons comes as no surprise, at
least to me. "The FSB [Federal Security Service] has a share of responsibility
about what happens to Novaya Gazeta,"
Lebedev told journalists at a press conference in
In an interview for the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, Muratov never directly confirmed that he agreed with Lebedev; instead he gave listeners food for thought: "You tell me. ... We have three options. The first one--to leave and turn off the lights ... The second--to stop working. In other words, to stop writing about the special services, corruption, drugs, construction, fascists; to stop investigating the crimes of the powerful structures. Just to stop working! ... The third option is to somehow defend ourselves. The state cannot defend us. It just cannot! It has gigantic defense budgets, a huge number of agencies. But, in general, it is busy doing its own business."
Later in the interview, Muratov described the work conditions
for independent reporters in
I understand the frustration in the face of unchecked violence against your own, the bottomless grief that turns to anger, the urge to react in unconventional, perhaps extreme ways. (All the more when the conventional ways simply don't work). When a paper loses four journalists to murders those are extreme circumstances. And desperate times call for desperate measures, or so the saying goes.
Would carrying a gun help? Ultimately, the enemies of the free