By Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW -Russian newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov dedicated the Nobel Peace Prize he won on Friday to six of his paper’s journalists murdered for their work, and said he would try to use the award to help defend reporters under pressure.
“Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natasha Estemirova – these are the people who have today won the Nobel Prize,” Muratov said, reciting the names of the slain staff journalists or contributors whose portraits hang in its headquarters.
He said he felt the Nobel prize committee wanted to recognise their achievements but had chosen him instead because it did not hand out awards posthumously.
Muratov was awarded the Nobel Prize on Friday along with Maria Ressa, a journalist from the Philippines, in what the committee called an endorsement of free speech rights in jeopardy around the world.
Referring to a law that forces some journalists to register as foreign agents, Muratov told media outside his newspaper’s central Moscow offices: “I don’t know how this will affect the censorship that is being imposed.
“…But I can say one thing for sure: we will sit down on Monday and have a think about how to divide this prize.”
Part of his winnings would be used to support unspecified independent media, he said.
Muratov also said he would have given the Nobel prize to Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest domestic critic, who was jailed this year over parole violations he said were trumped up to thwart his political ambitions.
Muratov’s prize comes at a time when Russian authorities have moved against domestic media they view as hostile and foreign-backed.
Hours after the award, the justice ministry designated the Bellingcat investigative news outlet a “foreign agent” along with nine journalists, including one working for the BBC‘s Russian service.
Some of the journalists who worked for Novaya Gazeta, the paper that Muratov, 59, helped found in 1993, were among the highest profile critics of Putin to have been killed in the last two decades.
They included reporter Politkovskaya and rights activist Estemirova, who both infuriated the Kremlin with dispatches from Chechnya. Politkovskaya was gunned down in her apartment stairwell in 2006 on Putin’s birthday. Estemirova was abducted from her home in the Chechen capital Grozny and murdered in 2009.
Novaya Gazeta was launched at a time of new-found freedom in Russia two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with a brief to investigate human rights issues, corruption and abuse of power.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader and the last Russian winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, donated some of his own money from the award to help fund equipment and salaries for the paper.
“This award elevates the significance of the press in the modern world to a greater height,” Gorbachev wrote in a congratulatory note to Muratov whom he called brave, honest and a friend.
Muratov edited the newspaper for more than two decades between 1995 and 2017 when he stepped down. He returned in 2019 at the behest of staff.
The Kremlin congratulated Muratov on his prize.
“He persistently works in accordance with his own ideals, he is devoted to them, he is talented,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “He is brave.”