- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

MOSCOW — The slaying of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya sent shock waves across Russia yesterday and raised fresh doubts about press freedoms under President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika took personal charge of the investigation into her shooting death Saturday at her Moscow apartment, citing the case’s “particular importance and its wide resonance within society.”

Press reports said police were focusing on footage from a security camera in the lobby of her apartment building that showed the suspected killer, a tall young man wearing dark clothing and a black baseball cap.

A 48-year-old mother of two, Mrs. Politkovskaya was the 13th reporter to die in a contract-style killing since Mr. Putin came to power, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most have gone unsolved.

Mrs. Politkovskaya had gained recognition at home and abroad for her relentless reporting of human rights abuses in Russia, particularly in Chechnya. She was one of the few remaining journalists in Russia willing to report on abuses in the southern province and openly criticize Mr. Putin.

She had been repeatedly threatened and had fled to Vienna, Austria, in 2001, before returning to Moscow after several months. She was convinced that she had been poisoned on a flight to cover the 2004 school siege in Beslan, in which more than 330 people died when troops stormed a school held by Chechen rebels.

Mrs. Politkovskaya had said she fell unconscious after drinking a cup of tea during the flight and woke up in intensive care.

Her colleagues in Russia said they have no doubt Mrs. Politkovskaya’s killing was connected with her work.

“There can be no other reason she died [than] because of her duties as a journalist. This was a politically motivated killing,” said Vitaly Yaroshevsky, a deputy editor at Mrs. Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

Mr. Yaroshevsky said that in the days before her death, Mrs. Politkovskaya had been working on a story documenting new cases of kidnapping and torture in Chechnya. It was to be published today.

In a radio interview on Thursday, Mrs. Politkovskaya hinted at the explosive nature of her story, saying she would be appearing as a witness in an abduction and torture case directly implicating the Kremlin-backed prime minister of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused Mr. Kadyrov’s forces in Chechnya of widespread abuses, but Mr. Kadyrov has always denied any personal involvement in torture. In the interview, she called him the “Stalin of our times” and a “heavily armed coward.”

Her killing came two days after Mr. Kadyrov’s 30th birthday, prompting some speculation that the assassination was served up as a present. Saturday was also Mr. Putin’s birthday.

Hundreds of people gathered in central Moscow yesterday to pay tribute to Mrs. Politkovskaya and denounce attacks on the press. “The Kremlin has killed freedom of speech,” read one poster at the gathering.

Born in New York, where her parents were Soviet diplomats at the United Nations, Mrs. Politkovskaya began her journalism career at the newspaper Izvestia and started covering Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta in 1999.

Elegant, with large reading glasses and gray hair, Mrs. Politkovskaya hardly fit the picture of a war correspondent. Yet her detailed and harrowing accounts of killings, torture and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen in Chechnya were considered some of the finest reporting from the region.

“My notes are written for the future. They are the testimony of the innocent victims of the new Chechen war, which is why I record all the detail I can,” she wrote in her 2003 book “A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya.”

In 2004, she published “Putin’s Russia” — a highly critical political biography that accused Mr. Putin of failing to shake off his past as a KGB agent. “He persists in crushing liberty just as he did earlier in his career,” she wrote in the book’s introduction.

In a postscript written in July 2004, she said the killing a day earlier of Paul Klebnikov, the American-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, reflected the worst of what Russia had become under Mr. Putin.

“Yes, stability has come to Russia. It is a monstrous stability [in which] nobody in his or her right mind seeks protection from the institutions entrusted with maintaining law and order, because they are totally corrupt.

“Lynch law is the order of the day, both in people’s minds and their actions. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

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