“I am not a political analyst. I am just one human being among many, a face in the crowd of Moscow, Chechnya, St Petersburg and elsewhere. [My writings] are my emotional reactions, jotted down in the margins of life as it is lived in Russia today…..I live in the present, noting down what I see.”

Anna Politkovskaya in the introduction to her 2004 book, Putin’s Russia

After almost a year with little news of the progress of the investigation into the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the arrests in late August 2007 of ten suspects should be an indication of progress. Yet questions have been raised about the conduct of the investigation with claims that it is being “politicized” and that leaks and confusion surrounding the case has undermined confidence that justice will be found.

On August 27, 2007, the Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika told a press conference that ten suspects had been arrested some days earlier in connection with the assassination. Chaika told journalists that among them were contract killers hired by a known Chechen criminals, as well as officers of the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) and policemen, both retired and still in service. He refused to disclose names, but stated that Politkovskaya’s assassination had been ordered by individuals living outside Russia whose aim was to “destabilize the situation in Russia; change the constitutional order; create a crisis in Russia; restoring the former system, when everything was decides by money and oligarchs; discrediting the leader of the Russian state; and aspiring to provoke an external pressure on the government of our country.”

The statement has been greeted with skepticism. Anna Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, told Radio Free Europe on August 28th that it has been carrying out its own investigation into the killings, the findings of which for the most part concurred with the Yuri Chaika’s findings. Its editor in chief, Dmitry Muratov, said that the existence of “hit squads” including members of the security services had been implicated in a number of assassinations. However the newspaper disputes the conclusion that the killing was masterminded by people living overseas. The Moscow-based free expression organization Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations believes that the timing of the arrests could be an attempt by the Kremlin to avoid criticism for its lack of progress in the investigation as the anniversary of Politkovskaya’s death approaches. Further questions arise in the conduct of the case with the claim by one of the detained suspects, a Chechen legal assistant resident in Moscow, that he had been beaten into a confession. Two of the ten detainees, both reportedly policemen, have since been released.

International human rights monitors have expressed concern about the lack of transparency and the leaking of conflicting information surrounding the case which has served to undermine the proceedings. In early September a second investigation team joined the prosecutor general’s office, apparently in an attempt to deal with the volume and complexity of the case.

PEN welcomes the start of investigations into the killing of Anna Politkovskaya while noting concerns about lack of transparency, procedural flaws and apparent political bias. It maintains that the successful prosecution of those responsible for such deaths is the most effective means of demonstrating that such acts are not tolerated and those who do seek to silence their critics through assassination will not go unpunished.


Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta was killed outside her home in Moscow on October 7, 2006. A renowned critic of the Russian army human rights abuses in Chechnya and of the corruption that is endemic in Russia, Politkovskaya was a thorn in the side of the authorities. She suffered harassment, threats and even an alleged poisoning attempt before she was murdered. There have been 13 reported “contract killings” of journalists during the President Putin’s term. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, only three of the killings have resulted in arrests and trials.

PEN has long campaigned against killings of journalists in Russia. Following her death, PEN American Center staged an event commemorating the life of Anna Politkovskaya and her work. PEN continues to call for justice to be done for Politkovskaya and all others murdered in the practice of their right to freedom of expression in Russia.

More information:

Anna Kushner, (212) 334-1660, ext. 106