Russian Journalist Mourned

People pay their last respects to slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya during a funeral ceremony at Troyekurovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006. Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was fatally shot in her apartment building Saturday in an apparent contract killing. Family, friends and admirers paid their final respects Tuesday at the funeral of a murdered investigative reporter who had criticized President Vladimir Putin and Russia's conduct in Chechnya.
This story was written by CBS News Moscow bureau chief Beth Knobel
She was one of Russia's most famous and courageous journalists. Now her killing has caused an international outcry.

Anna Politkovskaya was a reporter for one of Russia's few remaining independent newspapers, "Novaya Gazeta." She was an uncompromising critic of the Russian government. But her main subject was the bloody war in Chechnya.

Politkovskaya wrote about the murder of innocent civilians, the corruption of local officials in Chechnya's Moscow-backed government and war crimes by Russian forces stationed in Chechnya. She reportedly was investigating torture in Chechen prisons at the time of her death.

"She was hammering away at the Putin regime, and she had a lot of people respecting her for what she was doing here in Russia," said reporter Pavel Felgengauer, a friend of the late journalist.

During more than 50 reporting trips to Chechnya, Politkovskaya tried to report the truth about what was going on in the war-torn republic. That was no easy task. Sometimes, she traveled around Chechnya hidden in the trunks of cars, to escape detection.

She also had to act when she saw civilians fall in harm's way. In 1999, she personally arranged for a whole retirement home and a psychiatric ward to be evacuated from Chechnya's capital to Moscow, so that the residents would not be hurt during fighting between Russians and Chechens.

"She tried to help people whose relatives had been kidnapped. She tried to help people who had problems with the legal system. She found people who were being held in prison, and saved many lives," said Vyacheslav Ismailov, one of Politkovskaya's closest colleagues at "Novaya Gazeta."

"She was always in a hurry, because she knew that if she didn't help these people, then no one would help them," Ismailov told CBS News.

Her reporting earned her several international awards, including one sponsored by CBS News. That prize, the Artem Borovik Award, has been given to a Russian investigative journalist each year since 2001 by the Overseas Press Club of America.

Because of Politkovskaya's ties to Chechnya, she became one of the mediators when a group of Chechens took a whole theater hostage in Moscow in 2003. She was one of the people who put their life at risk by entering the theater to negotiate with the hostage takers.

But Politkovskaya's work also made her plenty of enemies.

Someone, likely a paid assassin, shot Politkovskaya dead outside her apartment as she returned with her groceries on Saturday afternoon. She was 48 years old.

She had feared for her safety, due to numerous threats against her life ... but not enough to stop what she was doing.

"She had lots of enemies, in the Kremlin, and not only in the Kremlin," said Felgengauer. "We always knew we were playing Russian roulette. I knew and she knew that they could get us anytime," he told CBS News.

The murder has sent shock waves around the world. Dozens of Russian journalists have been killed here during the past few years, but never one so well-known, so widely respected.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised a full investigation into the murder. He called Politkovskaya's killing "a crime of loathsome brutality," but said her influence on political life in Russia was minimal.

That sentiment was not shared by those attending Politkovskaya's funeral ... hundreds of friends, colleagues and politicians who admired her hard-nosed reporting.

To them, she was a symbol of the power of the free press ... and of its fragility.

By Beth Knobel

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.