We were only 30 on
Friday: representatives of human rights organizations, a few journalists and
academics, a couple of anonymous "concerned citizens." Standing on the Place de
la Liberté (Freedom Square) in Brussels two blocks from the Parliament, a few
meters away from a police team that had asked us to limit ourselves to a
"static demonstration," we held pictures of Natalya
Estemirova and roses. A few journalists--the Belgian news agency, Reuters
Television, a community TV station--were filming the scene. Scores of people
were walking by on their way from lunch back to office work.
"It is Friday, in the
middle of the holiday season," reasoned one of the demonstrators. "The members
of the European Parliament are in Strasbourg
for their inaugural session. You'll see: The next time we organize something
for Natasha we'll be many more".
The contrast could not
have been wider between this tiny group of demonstrators and the deluge of
articles and statements condemning Natalya's killing and praising her courage.
In the mainstream media, on Facebook, in e-mail groups, Natalya's murder had
been prominently reported and commented on. Editorials celebrated her
commitment and denounced the culture of impunity in Russia. Many writers pointed an
accusing finger at the Chechen president and called on Medvedev and Putin to investigate.
Usually cautious in their relations with Russia, many EU officials expressed
their indignation and asked for justice.
Natalya Estemirova was
well-known as a human rights defender. She had been in Brussels various times on advocacy trips and
had received an award from the European Parliament. Very few, however, were
aware of her journalism work.
regularly for the Caucasus news Web site Kavkazsky Uzel and for Novaya Gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya's
newspaper. The two had worked together on stories. Besides her own writing, she
had played a key role in getting the news out of Chechnya by providing other
journalists with facts. To some extent, international media organizations were
relying on her to cover a region that they considered too dangerous or too far
from current news priorities to send their own reporters.
Natalya brought to her
human rights investigations the best of a journalist's commitment to dig out
and check the uncomfortable facts, to be rigorously impartial and to act as a
watchdog on arbitrary power.
Listening to the
speakers deploring the loss of a combative woman daring to speak up, I was
thinking of a famous sentence pronounced by late Newsday star investigative journalist Bob Greene when Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was
murdered in Phoenix
in 1976: "You don't kill a story by killing a journalist."
The best tribute to
Natalya's work will be the dedication to find who killed her and who ordered
the killing but also to make sure that the stories that she investigated and
that Chechen and Russian authorities want to suppress will be uncovered and
disseminated around the world.
is senior adviser to CPJ's Global
Campaign Against Impunity. He reported from Brussels.