Mourners Pay Final Respects to Slain Russian Journalist
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
MOSCOW (AP) – Hundreds of Russians, journalists and Western diplomats filed past an open casket Tuesday to pay their respects to a slain investigative reporter who had criticized President Putin and Russia’s conduct in Chechnya.
In Germany, Mr. Putin called the killing of Anna Politkovskaya a “disgustingly cruel” crime that cannot go unpunished, but he also played down her influence on Russian political life as “very minor.”
No high-ranking government officials attended the funeral of the award-winning journalist, who made her name fearlessly exposing abductions and torture in the war in Chechnya.
“The authorities are cowards. Why didn’t they come? Are they afraid even of a dead Politkovskaya?” asks Boris Nemtsov, a 1990s reformer who served as deputy prime minister under President Yeltsin.
Politkovskaya, 48, was gunned down in her apartment building Saturday. The killing threw a new spotlight on the risks faced by journalists who criticize Russian authorities and dig deep to expose abuses.
At home and abroad, her slaying drew widespread concern about dwindling media freedom in Russia since Mr. Putin came to power nearly seven years ago. Prosecutors have said she was probably killed because of her journalistic work, but there are no immediate leads.
More than 1,000 mourners who had gathered under the drizzle filed past the open casket where Politkovskaya lay in a funeral hall on the outskirts of Moscow, her forehead covered with a white ribbon according to Russian Orthodox tradition.
They placed flowers, mostly roses and carnations, around the coffin. Others held thin yellow prayer candles, and many wept.
“Anya lived and died a hero,” said veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva. “She couldn’t bear seeing how people suffer, how they’re in trouble, and that’s why she rushed to their help as if she were the most powerful person in the world, not waiting for other help to arrive.”
American Ambassador William Burns, who attended the ceremony, said he hoped “this tragic death will lead to greater respect for freedom of speech, for the importance of speaking the truth and achieving fairness and truth.”
Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika has taken personal charge of the investigation, but Politkovskaya’s colleagues have expressed doubts that her slaying will be solved. Her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, has pledged to conduct an independent investigation and offered a nearly $1 million reward for information that would help solve the crime.
Mr. Putin, who was in Dresden to meet with Chancellor Merkel, suggested the murder could have been aimed at discrediting Russia’s image.
“People who have been hiding from Russian law enforcement bodies for a long time have been hatching plans to sacrifice someone to stir up a wave of anti-Russian sentiments in the world,” he said.
The family of Paul Klebnikov, an American journalist whose 2004 slaying in Moscow remains unresolved, said Politkovskaya’s death sent yet another worrying signal.
“Who’s next?” Klebnikov’s widow, Musa asked in a statement. “Without journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov, as well as many others who say truths some find uncomfortable – you cannot build civil society in Russia.”
Russia is the third most deadly country for journalists, after Iraq and Algeria, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which says Politkovskaya was at least the 43rd reporter killed for her work in Russia since 1993.
Colleagues said Politkovskaya had been working on a story about torture and abductions in Chechnya, abuses she blamed on Moscow-backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.
In a newspaper interview published Monday, Mr. Kadyrov expressed condolences over Politkovskaya’s death, and denied any “Chechen trace” in the killing.
“It is hearsay and rumors, which don’t show either politicians or the media in a good light,” Mr. Kadyrov was quoted as saying by the Vremya Novostei daily.
Politkovskaya’s colleagues described her as a brave reporter and a courageous woman who would venture into war-shattered Chechen villages not just to conduct investigations for her stories but also to help ordinary people.
At times she was in such danger that people tried to protect her by taking her from village to village in a car trunk, said her closest collaborator at the paper, Vyacheslav Izmailov.