10/08/2008, 00.00
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Anna Politkovskaya like Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn

by Viktor Khroul
Hundreds of people yesterday remembered the journalist who was slain two years ago. Russia is one of the most dangerous placed in the world for journalists. Her message is an appeal to believers and non-believers to dare to go to the bottom of the truth. Here is an analysis by Prof Vicktor Khroul, who teaches journalism at Moscow University.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The anniversary of the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta journalist murdered on 7 October, was not forgotten. Several hundred people braved the rain Tuesday to gather in central Moscow to commemorate her death. Hundreds of police on Pushkin Square patrolled the crowd, which included Politkovskaya's colleagues and children, human rights activists and political opposition leaders.

The Moscow District Military Court announced Tuesday that preliminary hearings in the Politkovskaya case would begin on 15 October against three men charged in the death of the journalist known for her outspoken opposition to Vladimir Putin and Russia’s military.

When she was killed she war gathering eyewitness evidence of human rights violations in Chechnya.

Dmitry Muratov, Novaya Gazeta editor, criticised the decision to try the men accused of her slaying before a military court, fearing they might be acquitted.

Two of the defendants who are accused of gunning her down in the entrance of her apartment building in central Moscow are ethnic Chechens, brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudo; the other is a former city police official, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov.

Rustam Makhmudov, a Chechen suspected of being the ringleader, remains at large reportedly living abroad.

Federal Security Service officer Pavel Ryaguzov was arrested last year in connection with the crime but has been cleared of that charge. He remains in custody however awaiting trial for abuse of power.

Vera Politkovskaya, 28, daughter of the slain journalist, said she feared that the names of the people who ordered her mother's death would “never be published in our country.” 

A model of a planned monument to the journalist has been placed in a park near her home, along with a small table, where those attending the meeting placed some flowers. Some of those present carried portraits of Politkovskaya and the slogan “Freedom of speech, not murderers!”

Here is what Vickor Khroul, professor of journalism at Moscow University, had to say about Anna.

It is extremely difficult to understand what is happening in today's Russia. It is difficult not only for foreigners, but for many Russian citizens because of false and fragmented picture they have from media. That is why it is very important to have journalists, who try to paint a true picture of reality, who help to understand the roots of events and their instant reasons.

Anna Politkovskaya, 48, killed 7 October 2006 in the elevator of the building where she lived, was a special correspondent for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta and an author of books that documented crimes in Russia. Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist who challenged the system and the authorities. She was banned from Russian television but, paradoxically, everyone knew her face.

I did not know Anna personally. We met several times during Amnesty International presentations—I was among the reporters, she was one of speakers. She tried to tell the world the truth—about crimes in Chechnya, about the violation of human rights all over Russia, about the abuse of power, about corruption in all layers and corners of the society. And I saw how sad she became after aggressive questions by pro-government writers, who in fact did not seem to be interested in the truth. Anna felt ashamed for the people who called themselves “journalists” were so unfair, not objective, and ignorant.

As Andrei Sakharov or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were “the conscience of the nation”, Anna Politkovskaya, I must say, was considered to be “the conscience of journalism” in Russia. After her death the dean of Moscow University Journalism Faculty, Yassen Zassoursky, said: “Our conscience was shot.” Teaching students in the same University and trying to awake their conscience to reality I often quote Anna's texts and in several practical cases ask students to imagine Anna's approach to certain situations. She was a very clear example for all journalists—young and old—of what moral responsibility in our profession means.

I do admire Anna for not emigrating from Russia (as many so called "human rights fighters" did), for not escaping despite the death threats she often received. The best-known case was the attempt on her life when she was poisoned on board a plane to Beslan to cover the hostage drama. That time doctors saved her life; they were able to beat the poison. But they were unable to prevent pistol shots and stop the bullets.

Since 1993 over 40 journalists have been murdered and not a single killer has been convicted. For example, after US journalist Paul Khlebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, was gunned down in July 2004 in Moscow, the person who ordered the murder has still not been identified. Repeated requests for an independent investigation have been ignored. Russia still remains one of the world's most dangerous countries for reporters.

When she was killed, Politkovskaya was working on an article about torture against Chechen civilians by security forces loyal to the region's pro-Moscow prime minister. Her reporting appeared in Russia's leading opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent outlets left in the increasingly state- or oligarch-controlled media.

Politkovskaya was murdered on the 20th anniversary of the start of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost policy—which quickly led to an increasingly free press. Gorbachev called Politkovskaya's murder “a grave crime against the country, against all of us . . . [and] a blow to the entire democratic, independent press.”

For Western readers it would be interesting to know that Politkovskaya repeatedly condemned the guilty indifference of Western societies to what is happening in Russia. She wrote mostly on civil rights. How many Western Catholics are interested in what is happening to Catholics in Russia?

In death as in life, Anna Politkovskaya proved adept at exposing modern Russia's dark side. All her publications had one dream, one aim—to serve the common good, to bring closer the time of solidarity and subsidiarity, to make society more humane and, therefore, more Christian. That is why so many people are praying for her. That is why there is a cross on her grave.

All of Anna Politkovskaya’s life could be described as a call to all of us—journalists and readers, Russians and foreigners, Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers—to go to the bottom of things, to dare to go into the depths: duc in altum! (cf Lk, 5:4).  

John Paul II turned this appeal into a call to all for the third millennium (cf Tertio Millennio Ineunte, N. 1). Anna Politkovskaya made this appeal to the whole of Russia.

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See also
Politkovskaya trial proving controversial
Open trial for defendants in Politkovskaya murder case
Politkovskaya’s killer arrested but could prove just a scapegoat
Foreign connection in Politkovskaya’s murder unconvincing
The trail of Anna Politkovskaja's murder leads to pro-Putin Chechens