30 March 2007
UNESCO posthumously honours slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya;
Anna Politkovskaya, the esteemed Russian journalist and outspoken human rights campaigner who was killed last October, will be awarded the prestigious 2007 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the first time the honour has been bestowed posthumously in its 10-year history.
Particularly well-known for her coverage of the conflict in Chechnya as a columnist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, her work was recognized worldwide. She was the recipient of the Golden Pen of Russia award and the Special Diploma of the Jury of the Andrei Sakharov Prize “For the Life Sacrificed to Journalism,” among many others.
Ms. Politkovskaya, who was born in 1958, was killed in the entrance of her home on 7 October 2006.
She “showed incredible courage and stubbornness in chronicling events in Chechnya after the whole world had given up on that conflict,” said Kavi Chongkittavorn, President of the jury of 14 independent journalists and editors from all over the world. “Her dedication and fearless pursuit of the truth set the highest benchmark in journalism, not only for Russia but for the rest of the world.”
Shortly after her murder which was roundly condemned, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura called for those responsible for her death to receive sentences “commensurate with the gravity of their actions to prevent the sense that the killing of journalists can be tolerated with impunity.”
The UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, created in 1997 by UNESCO’s Executive Board, honours an individual or organization defending or promoting the freedom of expression anywhere in the world, especially if the work puts the person’s life at risk. Candidates are nominated by UN Member States, regional groups or international organizations that work on issues pertaining to freedom of expression.
The award is given out annually on 3 May to coincide with World Press Freedom Day. To mark the tenth anniversary of the Prize, the day will be commemorated in Medellin, Colombia, the hometown of Guillermo Cano, the newspaper publisher for whom the award is named.
Mr. Cano was assassinated 20 years ago for criticizing the activities of powerful drug barons in his country.
To date, the $25,000 Prize has been awarded to May Chidiac of Lebanon in 2006, Cheng Yizhong of China in 2005, Raul Rivero of Cuba in 2004, Amira Hass of Israel in 2003, Geoffrey Nyarota of Zimbabwe in 2002, U Win Tin of Myanmar in 2001, Nizar Nayyouf of Syria in 2000, Jesus Blancornelas of Mexico in 1999, Christina Anyanwu of Nigeria in 1998 and Gao Yu of China in 1997.
October 13, 2006
We"ll call you a Terrorist, by Anna Politkovskaya. (Novaya Gazeta/ Russia)
(Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on Saturday, October 7. She was a fearless journalist in a country where a free press is fast disappearing. She was a fierce critic of Russia"s actions in Chechnya, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified as a front of George Bush"s "war on terror." Twelve journalists have been killed in "contract-style" killings since President Putin came to power, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. This is the last article she was working on, which ran today in her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta).
We"ll Call You A Terrorist: The counter-terrorist politics of torture in the Northern Caucuses.
Every day I see dozens of folders. These are copies of the criminals files of those whom we have imprisoned or are still investigating for "terrorism."
Why "terrorism" in quotes? Because the vast majority of these people are "government-manufactured terrorists." And this practice of "manufacturing terrorists" has not only replaced, by 2006, any sort of actual fight against terrorism, but is now beginning to provoke those who would avenge its abuses—potential terrorists. When prosecutors and courts work not in the interest of the law or of punishing the guilty but for political hire, structuring counter-terrorist accountability so as to best please the Kremlin, criminal procedures are manufactured on an assembly line. And this conveyor of "genuine admissions of guilt" perfectly fulfills the need for good indicators in the "war on terrorism" in the Northern Caucuses.
The mothers of a group of convicted young Chechens wrote to me:
"...In truth, these correctional facilities have turned into concentration camps for convicted Chechens. They are subject to discrimination based on their national identity. They are never released from solitary confinement. The majority, almost all of them, are convicted based on fabricated cases without proof. In these cruel circumstances, subjected to assaults on human dignity, they develop a hatred for everything. This is a whole army that will return to us with wrecked fates, with ruined perspectives..."
Frankly: I fear their hatred. I fear it because, sooner or later, it will overflow its banks. And everyone will fall victim to this, not just those investigators who tortured them. These "manufactured terrorist" cases are where the two ideological positions on what is happening in the field of counter-terrorism in the Northern Caucases collide head-on: Are we lawfully fighting the unlawful? Or are we pounding their unlawfulness with our own? In colliding, they spark a conflagration in the present and the future. The result of "manufactured terrorism" is an increasing number of those who refuse to accept this.
Recently, the Ukraine turned over, at Russia"s behest, a certain Beslan Gadaev, a Chechen. He was arrested at the beginning of August while having his papers checked in Crimea, where he was an unofficial refugee. Here is an excerpt from his letter, dated August 29th:
"...After I was extradited by the Ukraine to Grozny, I was led into an office and immediately asked whether I had killed people from the Salikhov family, Anzor and his friend, a Russian truck driver. I swore that I hadn"t killed anyone and hadn"t spilled any blood, neither Russian, nor Chechen. They said, affirmatively: "No, you killed [them]." I began, again, to deny this. After I responded the second time, they immediately started beating me. First, they hit me two times around my right eye. While I was trying to collect myself after that, they twisted me and handcuffed me in front and stuck a rod sideways between my legs so that I couldn"t move my hands, even though I was already in handcuffs. They then took me—or, more accurately, they took this rod, that I was attached to, by the ends—and hung me between two nearby cabinets that were about one meter high.
Immediately after hanging me, they started attaching wires to my pinky fingers. A few seconds later, I was electrically shocked while simultaneously being beaten all over with rubber clubs. Unable to withstand the pain, I started screaming, calling the Almighty"s name, begging them to stop. In response to this, to avoid hearing and listening to my screams, they put a black bag over my head.
I don"t remember exactly how long this went on but I began to pass out from the pain. Seeing that I was losing consciousness, they took the bag from my head and asked me if I was willing to talk. I answered that I was, although I didn"t know what I could tell them. I said it to escape the torture, at least temporarily.
Next, they took me down, removed the rod and threw me to the floor. "Talk," they said. I responded that I didn"t have anything to say. They reacted by hitting me with the same rod I"d been suspended from, still around my right eye. From the force of these blows, I fell on my side and, in an almost unconscious state, felt them beginning to hit me anywhere they could. ... They hung me back up and repeated the same thing they"d done before. How long this went on, I don"t remember. They poured water over me again and again.
The next day, they bathed me and smeared something on my face and body. Around lunch time, I got a visit from a plain-clothes policeman, who told me that the journalists had arrived and that I"d have to admit to three murders and assault, threatening that, if I refused, they"d repeat the same torture, as well as humiliate me by subjecting me to sexual assault. I agreed. After I gave an interview to the journalists, they, once again threatening me, forced me to testify that all the beatings I had received at their hands, that they had perpetrated on me, I had received while allegedly attempting to escape..."
Beslan Gadaev"s attorney, Zaur Zakriev, told Memorial, a non-profit human rights group, that physical and psychological violence were used against his client during his detention in the Grozny police station. Based on Zakriev"s testimony, his client has essentially admitted an armed attack against police officers in 2004. However, the Grozny police decided to extract further testimony regarding crimes committed in the town of Old Atagi, Grozny region.
According to his attorney, Gadaev"s body still has visible traces of the cruel violence done to him. In the medical ward of the Grozny jail, where Gadaev, who is being charged under chapter 209 of the Russian Federation"s penal code ("repeated armed assault"), is currently located, a medical report was compiled. It bears evidence to the repeated beatings and resulting injuries in the form of barely-healed wounds, cuts, bruises, broken ribs and internal injuries.
Regarding all the gross human rights abuses, Zakriev has directed complaints to the prosecutor of the Chechen Republic..
Translation by Sandi Burtseva
Here, Politkovskaya"s material is cut off. It is unfinished. Details that have remained outside this text are being investigated by the editorship of Novaya Gazeta .
October 9, 2006
Death of a Courageous Journalist, by Katrina vanden Heuvel. (The Nation)
Russia and the world have lost a great and courageous journalist. The killing of Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 is horrifying and shocking, but not unexpected. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow"s Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of her murder, "There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya."
It was "a savage crime," said former Russian President --and the father of glasnost--Mikhail Gorbachev. "It is a blow to the entire democratic, independent press. It is a grave crime against the country, against all of us."
Politkovskaya was just 48 years old when she was found in her apartment building, shot in the head with a pistol. In the last decade, her unflinching reporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechen war made her one of the bravest of Russia"s journalists.
The numerous death threats she had received in these last few years never slowed her. In fact, when she was killed Politkovskaya was at work finishing an article--to have been published Monday--about torturers in the government of the pro-Kremlin Premier of Chechnya.
Politkavskaya was a fearless chronicler of the mass executions, the torture, the rape and kidnappings of Chechen civilians at the hands of Russian troops and security forces. She understood the cancer that was the war--and wrote and spoke of how the "Bush-Blair war on terror" had given Putin allowance to say he was fighting international terrorism. In fact, the Kremlin"s policies and the brutal Russian occupation of Chechnya, she wrote in many dispatches, were instead engendering the terrorists they were supposed to eliminate.
Her raw and searing reports on the human catastrophe of the Chechen war appeared primarily in Novaya Gazeta, which has become in these last five years the main opposition newspaper in Russia. It is to Novaya"s credit that her crusading investigative articles were published inside Russia. In the wake of her death, there is concern that the next victim may be her newspaper. That"s why it"s important that the international journalistic community defend the weekly newspaper"s independent, dissenting voice. (In a little-noted development, last june Gorbachev became a minority partner/shareholder in Novaya. His role may provide some protection from any kremlin attempts to curb the paper"s voice.)
I met Politkovskaya a few times--in Moscow and in New York, including at a Committee to Protect Journalist"s dinner in New York where she received one of the many honors that came her way in these last years.. she spoke with fierce intensity about the horror of the war--and the injustice and corruption she believed was strangling Russia. There was a bluntness to her personal style--as there was to her investigative reporting. A mother of two, Politkovskaya spoke of her fear, and the risks she knew she faced in taking on the most powerful forces in Russia. But she never let that interfere with what she believed passionately was her duty as a journalist. In an interview two years ago with the BBC, Politkovskaya said "I am absolutely sure that risk is [a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannot stop because it"s my duty. I think the duty of doctors is to give health to their patients, the duty of the singer is to sing. The duty of [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees is the reality. It"s my one duty."
Her latest book, Putin"s Russia--an uncompromising indictment of her beloved country"s corrupt politics--has just been published in the US. Read it. But it is her reporting on Russia"s long-running brutal war --collected in a previous book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya,-- which best explains what her friend Panfilov said on Saturday: "Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya." And may it be remembered that this brave and honest journalist never compromised on the fundamental ideals of free speech and a free press in the long battle for human rights in Russia.
Since 1992, forty-two journalists in Russia have been killed--most in unsolved contract executions. Journalists--and citizens of all countries who value the importance of a free press--should join in calling on the Russian government to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation in order to find, prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for Anna Politkovskaya"s murder--and those of her colleagues.
* Katrina vanden Heuvel has been The Nation"s editor since 1995.
October 9, 2006
In praise of ... Anna Politkovskaya. (The Guardian/UK)
"People sometimes pay with their lives for saying out loud what they think," Anna Politkovskaya told a conference on press freedom last December. On Saturday she was killed outside her apartment in Moscow - an assassination that ended the life of one of Russia"s bravest and most brilliant journalists, and set back the cause of freedom in her country. In books and articles, including several for this paper, she confronted repression and deceit in all its forms, well aware of the risk she was running. More than any other journalist, she defied both the Russian state and Chechen rebel forces to expose the brutality of the Chechen war, which has been sustained by Moscow, often in secret, for 12 years. Her sympathies as a writer and campaigner always lay with the civilian victims of a conflict they had done nothing to start and could do nothing to resolve. In her last piece for the Guardian, published in March, she described the consequences of intentional chemical poisoning in the Shelkovsk region of the republic. "People who have the misfortune to live in Chechnya are seen as biomaterial for experiments," she wrote. A victim of poisoning herself, in an earlier apparent assassination attempt, she defied enemies in the Russian government, military and underworld, though friends, aware of the risk she faced, encouraged her to leave Moscow. Instead she stood her ground. Such courage cost Ms Politkovskaya her life.
October 9, 2006
A Blow to Humanity, by Danny Schechter. (Mediachannel.org)
Journalism lost one of its brightest lights this weekend when the well- known and globally-honored Anna Politkovskaya, a mother of two and the most courageous chronicler of the Wars in Chechnya, was killed in her apartment building in Moscow.
The 48-year-old investigative reporter, lauded by journalists and writers around the world for her exposés in Chechnya, appears to have been assassinated. The murder came two days before she was due to publish an exposé of the Chechnyan Prime Minister.” I met Politkovskaya some time ago at a conference we both attended in Barcelona. I learned she had actually been born in New York to parents who worked for the Soviet Union’s diplomatic service. She was matter of fact, soft-spoken, humble and almost unable to talk about the many crimes she has witnessed and described. She said she was impressed with the Mediachannel.org site I edit and urged me to continue. The media world was shocked but it shouldn’t have been because she was frequently threatened. She was the victim of a poisoning as she traveled to report on the school incident in Beslan.
The International Helsinki Foundation issued a statement of alarm: “We are shocked, we are disturbed, and we mourn with her family. She was among the very few Russian journalists who investigated the realities of the war in Chechnya, and she was doubtless the bravest. Insofar as the tragic conflict is known and understood at all, it is due in large part to her professionalism and tenacity, for which she appears to have paid with her life."
Vitaly Yaroshevsky, the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, said in a telephone interview. “We are certain that this is the horrible outcome of her journalistic activity,” he said. “No other versions are assumed.”
Her writing was eloquent and well informed but never detached and distant. She named names, and told it like it is.
Here she was in May of 2002 in Novaya Gazeta: “We have reached a stage in Russia now, where every schoolchild knows that Chechnya is being "cleaned", and adults no longer bother with the inverted commas.
"Zachistka" in this sense entails thoroughly sorting out someone or something and, on the whole, we prefer not to enquire too closely into who or what. For this meaning of this old word we have the war in Chechnya to thank, and more particularly the high-ranking military officals who routinely update us on television with the latest news from Russia"s Chechen ghetto, popularly known as the "Zone of Anti-Terrorist Operations"…
Towns and villages are besieged for days; women wail; families try desperately to evacuate their adolescent sons - where to doesn"t matter providing it"s a long way from Chechnya; village elders stage protest demonstrations. Finally, we are regaled with general Moltenskoy himself, our supposed commander-in-chief of the "Front Against Terrorism", festooned with medals and ribbons, there on the television screen, pumping adrenalin, larger than life; and invariably against a background of corpses and "cleaned" villages.”
Have we heard one really clear condemnation of these practices from our President.. Leaders blind to their own crimes will not see others crimes.
She believed in the importance of educating the public in a media system—like our own—which often avoids uncomfortable truths. In her case, people lined up outside her office with stories to tell and horrors to share. She was trusted, and loved.
She told an interviewer from the Polish daily newspaper "Rzeczpospolita: “I get a lot of letters, 40% of them are against the war, in the rest of them people condemn my anti-war views. In the Russian media there"s a lack of information regarding this subject, not like during the first war from 1994-96. In this information emptiness, actions of authorities are supported by a huge propaganda machine. This machine has been able to create a picture of the enemy. This enemy living down south, they called them "blacks". Sound familiar—“ This enemy living down south, they called them "blacks". She went to Chechnya more than 40 times. She was herself tortured, condemned and discredited. She was often afraid. “I"m afraid a lot,” she said. ”During every trip. But, if I wanted to live without fear and risk, I would become a teacher or a housewife. There"s a risk written in the profession of journalist, so this talk about my fear doesn"t have any sense.”
Already, anger is being heard. These comments are from the website of Chris Floyd, the Moscow Times writer who was recently fired for his truth-telling:
"The thugs who rule the country got her. She saw it coming, but never gave up defending those trampled underfoot in the Russia of Vladimir Putin. Another hero unsung by the stifled Russian media. Another martyr for humanity”…and, “poor Anna has been killed by those in power who fear the loss of it.”
And the deaths of other journalists continue. AP reported this past weekend: “Two German journalists who had pitched a tent on the side of a road outside a northern Afghan village were killed by gunmen early Saturday, the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.”
What can we do about these outrages? First, we can find out about them. Then we havee a duty to speak up in protest to the governments worldwide that sanction them, and the media outlets which refuse to do brave reporting.
In the name of all who died, and to remember and honor the great Anna Politkovskaya, their work must be continued, their killers must be brought to justice..
by Katrina Vanden Heuvel