The One-Year Anniversary of the Assassination of Anna Politkovskaya

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, as chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I have followed closely the difficulties faced by journalists throughout the nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Many of these dedicated men and women risk financial ruin, physical intimidation and even death at the hands of those who fear honesty and truth in print or in the electronic media.

In this connection, I would call the attention of my distinguished colleagues to a tragic anniversary: Sunday, October 7th, 2007, marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot and killed by an unknown assailant or assailants at the entrance to her apartment building in Moscow.

Ms. Politkovskaya was a brave and prolific journalist whose name has become synonymous with journalistic courage under fire. Her vivid, on- the-spot reporting brought to the world's attention the bloody war in Russia's breakaway region of Chechnya and the suffering of its victims, both Chechen and Russian. In her book The Dirty War, a compilation of articles she had written previously on the conflict, she demonstrated a unique gift for telling the stories of people caught in the crossfire between the Russian military forces, brutal Chechen paramilitaries operating on Moscow's behalf, the indigenous Chechen resistance, and Islamic extremists who rushed in from all over the world to exploit the conflict. One reviewer wrote that "her writing focuses on the ethics of everyday life and individual misery in the midst of Chechnya's catastrophe. It is Chechen civilians and Russian conscript soldiers who are the centers of concern here. Politkovskaya's most withering scorn is reserved for the political and military classes that initiated this war, together with its profiteers, opportunists, and contract soldiers straight from Russia's prisons."

For her hard-hitting and courageous reporting Ms. Politkovskaya earned numerous journalism awards, including the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's annual Prize for Journalism and Democracy in 2003. In 2004, she shared the Olof Palme Prize for human rights work with fellow Russian human rights activists Ludmila Alexeyeva and Sergei Kovalev.

On the day Anna Politkovskaya was killed, she was due to file a story on the looted reconstruction money intended for Chechnya, and use of torture and kidnapping by pro-Moscow Chechen paramilitaries. Clearly, her reporting had made a lot of enemies and threatened a lot of comfortable positions.

Anna Politkovskaya was an American citizen, born during the Cold War in New York City, where she was exposed to democracy, a free press, and a world of ideas denied to most Soviet citizens. Graduating in 1980 from Moscow State University, she worked for the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya during the halcyon days of perestroika. In 1999, she joined the staff of Novaya Gazeta, one of the few national Russian newspapers at that time that took a critical line toward the Russian government. Her dedication to exposing the tragic events in Chechnya resulted in around 50 trips to that cauldron of conflict.

In 2004, she made an attempt to travel to Beslan during the murderous school siege, in that village but fell ill with food poisoning on the way, an event which some took as a deliberate poison attempt by her enemies to kill her. She was very aware that her actions angered many in the governments of both Chechnya and Russia, but never let threats to her life dissuade her from her passion. She was once quoted as saying, "journalists have a duty to report on the subject that matters, just as singers have to sing and doctors have to heal."

Despite her critical attitude toward her country's political leadership, Anna Politkovskaya possessed a deep warmth and love for its people. She cared for Russia, and wanted nothing else for the country and its people than to see it become a true democracy free from corruption and fear. Her death, said former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ". . . is a savage crime against a professional and serious journalist and a courageous woman. It is a blow to the entire democratic, independent press. It is a grave crime against the country, against all of us."

Madam Speaker, the Russian government has announced the arrest of several persons implicated in Anna Politkovskaya's murder, and the actual shooter has reportedly been determined. However, the investigation itself appears to have raised more questions than answers, which is, unfortunately, a characteristic of many high-profile investigations in Russia nowadays. Let us hope that the investigation will be brought to a successful conclusion, and that Anna Politikovskaya's killers, who or wherever they are, will be brought to justice.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).