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by Kester Kenn Klomegah

Murdered Russian Journalist Was Outspoken Critic of Putin

(IPS) MOSCOW -- The public announcement by Russian prosecutor-general Yury Chaika last week that ten people have been arrested in connection with the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya has called into question the effectiveness of the justice system.

Politkovskaya, who had dual Russian and U.S. citizenship, was killed near her apartment block in Moscow Oct. 7, 2006. She had been exposing human rights abuses in Chechnya province, and was a strong critic of the Kremlin.

The announcement of the arrests offered some initial hope that the Russian government will deal firmly with crime, but doubts have arisen.

Human rights activist Nadejda Atayeva told IPS from Paris that there is reason to believe that announcement of the arrests is no more than a high-flown statement. "First of all, on the eve of the anniversary of journalist's murder to show that the investigation somehow is advancing. Yet they will have to prove whether those people are really guilty. Public opinion will not set aside this tragic date, and authorities are aware of it."

Sergey Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, where the journalist worked since June 1999, told IPS that they want to see whether the prosecutor-general's investigations will lead to fair trail rather than politicizing the case.

"There are professional people who are working at the prosecutor-general's office, but this case is likely drag on and on. We're not challenging the prosecutor's report, but I believe that it will take a long time before they reach a final judicial conclusion, as it has been with many other cases involving journalists, businessmen and politicians."

Sokolov said Chaika's official statement Aug. 27 that ten people had been arrested in connection with the murder of Politkovskaya was a positive development, but that his newspaper will continue its own investigations.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) has urged Russian prosecutors to disclose more information about the investigation.

"The murder of Anna Politkovskaya shook the Russian and international community. The public expects a thorough and timely accounting of the investigation," CPJ executive director Joel Simon said in an official press release.

Several Russian newspapers and websites have published the names of suspects. Among them is a Federal Security Service (FSB) colonel said to have kept Politkovskaya under surveillance, the widely circulated newspaper Kommersant reported.

At a news briefing earlier, Chaika blamed the killing on masterminds abroad who want to destabilize Russia.

He said the murder benefits people whose aim is "destabilizing the situation in the country, changing the constitutional order, creating a crisis in Russia, restoring the former system when everything was decided by money and oligarchs, discrediting the leaders of the Russian state, and aspiring to provoke external pressure on the government of our country."

In a statement posted on his website, Chaika said evidence shows that a member of the criminal group implicated in the Politkovskaya murder was also involved in the 2004 murder of Paul Klebnikov, the U.S. editor of Forbes Russia.

"Prosecutor Chaika has made assertions about alleged overseas masterminds in Anna Politkovskaya's murder -- along with a connection to Paul Klebnikov's murder -- but he has not yet backed up these accusations," said Simon. "We call on the authorities to be transparent and provide evidence for such claims."

According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), 211 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1993.

Amnesty International researcher for Europe and Central Asia Friederike Behr told IPS that the announcement of the arrests is "definitely a step forward; Amnesty International will monitor the investigation and its subsequent proceedings; we have called on the Russian authorities to conduct the investigation thoroughly, independently and impartially and to make the findings public."

Behr said the suspects should be brought to justice in proceedings that meet international standards of fairness.

New York-based Freedom House spokesman Christopher Walker told IPS that "a culture of impunity has prevailed in Russia regarding the official response to the murders of a significant number of journalists in recent years."

The authorities' track record in these cases has been "dreadful," and "sends a clear message to journalists and editors that independent reporting is unwelcome," he said. "In order to gain the confidence of the Russian public, as well as international observers, the authorities should be conducting investigations that are both vigorous and unbiased."

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Albion Monitor   September 4, 2007   (

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