Russian Journalist Murdered

A man holds a photograph of recently killed reporter Anna Politkovskaya, with the words underneath: "Politkovskaya's killing and the persecution of an ethnic minority is fascism," during a rally on Pushkin square in downtown Moscow, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2006.
AP Photo
Russia has become a deadly place for journalists who run afoul of government officials or their business and political partners.

Those behind the killings, though, are rarely brought to justice, reinforcing a sense of impunity that may have encouraged the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the war in Chechnya.

As the European Union and the U.S. demanded a thorough probe into Saturday's contract-style killing, there was skepticism that the authorities would ever uncover the culprits of the latest in a series of killings of journalists in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, who has been increasingly accused of rolling back post-Soviet freedoms since coming to power in 2000.

The skepticism was underlined by the $929,700 reward for information that Novaya Gazeta has offered, signaling stronger faith in their own investigative efforts than those promised by the government, which has produced so few prosecutions before.

"Russia is a uniquely hostile place for the execution of independent journalism. It is both violent and repressive," said Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Politkovskaya's editors said she had been due to publish an investigative article on Monday about torture and kidnappings in Chechnya based on witness accounts and photos of tortured bodies.

CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reported Sunday that Politkovskaya knew well that her work put her in danger.

She once described her tense work-life in a television interview: "You have to be on the run all the time. Change clothes, stay awake simply to do your job as a journalist, to collect information from both sides. This job seems more and more like spying, unfortunately."

Mitchell said Russian TV broadcast security camera video of a man authorities claim is the main suspect in the killing. He is seen leaving Politkovzkaya's Moscow building.

Politkovskaya was the first recipient of the Overseas Press Club/CBS News Artyam Borovik award. The award is given journalists who, in the spirit of Borovik, report on what is happening in Russia -- even when the Russian government does not want these stories reported, said Linda Mason, Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects for CBS News. Mason met Politkovskaya when she came to New York to accept the award, and was impressed with her "passionate commitment to the stories she reported."

She was at least the 43rd journalist killed for her work in Russia since 1993, according to CPJ, which has ranked Russia the third most deadly country for journalists, after Iraq and Algeria. Many were killed while reporting on the two wars in Chechnya, and six were caught up in fighting between government and opposition forces in Moscow in 1993.

Many more appear to have been targeted because of their attempts to dig into allegations of corruption. The killers have rarely been found.

  • Tucker Reals

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