Five years after Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, the picture is far from complete. It is understood that she was killed for her investigative reporting on Chechnya, but although two suspects have finally been arrested, but not anyone believed to have given the order.
It underscores the dangers of fighting corruption and rights abuses. It was while Vladimir Putin was president. He called Politkovskaya’s influence “extremely insignificant” after her death. Yet the democratic defence organisation the Council of Europe continues to say otherwise.
Representatives of the Council’s 47 member states — and Russia is one of them — have been debating the violence being used to stop journalists from exposing wrongs. They say the threat to media freedom in the public interest is perhaps the worst it has ever been.
Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said: “I think there is a need for support of this profession that is under threat. It is under threat because they do report about wrongdoings of the government, the wrongdoings of certain officials, and that’s why their lives and the lives of their families is something that is under attack.”
Rights groups say 19 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 2000, when Putin was first elected president, and none of the masterminds jailed.
A journalist from the Novaya Gazeta paper where Politkovskaya worked took part in the debate in Strasbourg.
Sergey Sokolov said: “The question of who ordered it will stay open, though I don’t know for how long, it’s hard for me to say. But sooner or later, of course, we’re going to know. Will he go to prison? That’s a political question.”
Murder as the most extreme form of censorship is crippling to democracy, the rights authorities stress. The Council’s Thomas Hammarberg is adamant that justice must be applied.
Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “When it comes to sensitive cases of killings of journalists we have seen that the investigations have been slow, one has appointed some killers as guilty but trying to hide who were behind. And this is impunity.”
Among the more than 100 journalists murdered since 1992 in Council member states, the case of Ukraine’s Georgiy Gongadze is typical: a contract killing unsolved. And there is Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who strongly criticised Turkish official minority policy. A man who claimed he killed him was convicted, but there is still suspicion that some unidentified party ordered it.