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Murdered For Her Words
By Christina L'Homme
May, 2007, 07:53

The World Press grieves and recognizes a true hero who was shot for her journalism.
For the first time this year, the UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was awarded posthumously, to the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Despite fear and threats, she continued to cover the situation in Chechnya until she was murdered.

She used to say, "Words can save lives." She was convinced her testimony could help mentalities evolve. Yet words finally killed her. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on Saturday, 7 October, 2006, shot down as she was coming home, on Lesnaya street in Moscow. Her last article on Chechnya, unfinished, was published by her newspaper Novaya Gazeta (circulation: one million) a few days after her death.

To pay tribute to her courage and commitment, the Director-General of UNESCO, on the recommendation of an independent international jury, decided to name her laureate of the UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize posthumously, a first in the prize's history. The chairman of the jury, Kavi Chongkittavorn, hailed Ms. Politkovskaya's "incredible stubbornness," which pushed her to continue "chronicling events in Chechnya when the whole world had lost interest in that conflict."

"This prize means a lot to us, her colleagues at Novaya Gazeta. It help us and allows us to continue working," declared Viatcheslav Izmaylov, journalist at Novaya Gazeta, assigned the investigation on her murder. "It represents recognition and is important for her children."

Among her collection of international prizes, Ms. Politkovskaya had received the Golden Pen of Russia award, a Special Diploma of the Jury of the Andrei Sakharov Prize, the Olof Palme Prize, and the 2003 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Prize for Journalism and Democracy. Her global fame did not suffice, however, to keep her safe. Nor did the security plan that on several occasions provided her (and other Novaya Gazeta journalists now) with 24-hour police protection.

Several times, she was offered political asylum in Europe, but she always turned down the possibility. "She couldn't abandon people who counted on her," her Novaya Gazeta colleague explains. "She never took sides, but she denounced all violations. Her articles talked about people, justice, and law." The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour recognized these qualities when she said, "Her death is an immense loss for the Russian Federation and for all who fight for human rights."

The woman whose warmth belied her rather severe appearance was born in 1958 in the United States, the daughter of Soviet diplomats. Mother of two children, now aged 26 and 28, she began her career at Izvestiya in the 1980s, during perestroika. She joined the editorial staff of the opposition biweekly Novaya Gazeta in 1999, and was responsible for the paper's coverage of the war in Chechnya.

In 2001, accused of entering Chechnya without authorization, she was abducted for three days. Seven months later she received a threatening letter from an officer convicted of executing Chechen civilians. She had written extensively about him and her articles had weighed upon the trial. Ms. Politkovskaya lived under the shadow of constant menace.

"But during the last weeks, the threats had stopped. We noticed and found it strange," recalls Mr. Ismaylov. In the diary she kept on her computer, she admitted her fears. "She was afraid of doing her job, of going to Chechnya. It was painful work. Yet her conscience compelled her to surmount her anxiety. No one noticed that in the seven years she worked at Novaya Gazeta, her hair had turned white."

"If all journalists had been as courageous as Anna Politkovskaya, she wouldn't have been killed," affirmed the head of the journalists' union in Russia on the day of her funeral, "because those who killed her would have hesitated at the thought that another journalist would take her place. She died because she stood alone."
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Source: UNESCO Cristina L'Homme, Paris, France

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