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Last Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Death of a courageous journalist
By Malcolm Haslett
BBC Caucasus and Central Asia analyst

Mourner with poster
Anna Politkovskaya will be buried on Tuesday
To many of us Anna Politkovskaya will remain the epitome of what a journalist should be.

She represented the best traditions of the Russian intelligentsia - highly cultured, courageous and fiercely honest.

A softly-spoken and serious woman who always talked in measured terms, she was deeply concerned about what was happening in her country.

She was also deeply disturbed by the direction the Putin administration was taking it, and despite the huge pressures put on Russia's media to submit and conform, she regularly investigated and reported the many abuses she believed were ruining the country's progress towards a normal state of democracy.

Because of this she not only had to face a barrage of officially sponsored scorn and innuendo from journalistic colleagues who chose to make their peace with the official line. She also survived more than one attempt on her life.

Multiple suspects

One of the main focuses for her criticism of President Putin's rule was his policy on Chechnya, and the finger of suspicion for her death has already been pointed at the controversial pro-Moscow strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, currently prime minister of the Chechen republic.

All the murders of children since 1999 in bombardments and purges remain unsolved, uninvestigated
Anna Politkovskaya

The Russian journalist Masha Gessen told the BBC that Kadyrov had threatened Anna Politkovskaya and deterred her from visiting Chechnya for the last two years, despite the fact that she was "very courageous, almost irrationally courageous".

"She was probably the most vocal critic not just of Ramzan Kadyrov but the Kremlin decision to appoint him. She called him a state criminal, and she called him Putin's most tragic mistake," Ms Gessen said.

But there is no shortage of other suspects too, official and unofficial. She made enemies among Russia's powerful business class. And crime syndicates. Nor did she avoid, as so many Russian journalists now do, open criticism of the Putin administration and its security services.

So there will be multiple suspects.

And it is a sad reflection on present-day Russia that so many powerful people spent so much time trying to isolate Anna Politkovskaya, transform her into some sort of crank.

Silenced

Masha Gessen points out that while she was one of the best known Russian journalists in the West, she had been "effectively silenced" in Russia itself.

"The newspaper she wrote for had a fairly small press run, not terribly well distributed - because it is extremely difficult for an independent newspaper to distribute in this country," Ms Gessen says.

"And whereas several years ago she still had access to television shows and radio shows - so she was widely known for things she said rather than for things she wrote - that was no longer the case."

To those who met Politkovskaya, and read her material, it was quite obvious she was far from being a crank, and that the material she published - whether on human rights abuses in Chechnya, brutality in the army, or the failures of the judicial system - was worthy of at least being examined by the authorities.

Vladimir Putin has been carefully nurturing, particularly during the build-up to the G-8 summit three months ago, an image of Russia as struggling forward towards democracy.

Anna Politkovskaya's journalism seriously undermined that image. Her death undermines it even more.


SEE ALSO
Obituary: Anna Politkovskaya
07 Oct 06 |  Europe
Russians win human rights prize
12 Jan 05 |  Europe



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