Russia: Politkovskaya Investigation Continues; Reporter Detained for Alleged Extortion

The media’s relationship with the government in Russia remains uneasy. In August 2007, Russian authorities made new strides in the investigation into Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s death, but critics say such developments are illusory and that the mastermind behind the contract killing will never be identified by the government. Russian authorities also detained a journalist in September 2007 on charges of extorting money from a government official, a claim the journalist’s newspaper denies.

Ten Arrested in Killing of Politkovskaya

Ten people have been arrested in connection with the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and investigators say they know who killed her. However, officials continue to claim that although they do not know who ordered the contract killing, the order must have come from outside the country.

The Associated Press (AP) reported on Oct. 8, 2007 that investigators in the Prosecutor General’s office have identified Politkovskaya’s murderer, who killed her outside her Moscow apartment on Oct. 7, 2006. “As for those who ordered it, we have interesting suggestions, let’s put it this way,” Senior Investigator Petros Garibyan told the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that Politkovskaya worked for.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced in August that investigators looking into the death of Politkovskaya had determined that “only individuals located outside the bounds of the Russian Federation” could have sought to kill the journalist, according to the AP on August 27. Chaika’s comments echoed previous statements made by Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly after Politkovskaya’s murder was discovered, according to the Financial Times on August 27. Putin blamed Politkovskaya’s murder on outsiders trying to discredit Russia. He stated in 2006 that he thought fugitives from justice in Russia were behind the killing. Putin also said that Politkovskaya’s death was more damaging to Russia than the impact of her reporting, which he termed “very minor,” according to the AP. (See “Famed Russian Reporter Murdered in Contract Killing” in the Fall 2006 issue of the Silha Bulletin).

Politkovskaya’s death heightened international concern for the welfare of journalists in Russia and the safety of critics of the Kremlin, according to the August 27 AP story. She was known for her strong criticism of Putin and the Kremlin and also drew attention to human rights abuses committed by Russian servicemen in Chechnya. The AP reported that she had written a book criticizing Putin’s military involvement in Chechnya and had accused Kremlin-annointed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov of using his security forces to torture civilians in the region.

The Financial Times reported on August 27 that Chaika indicated that Politkovskaya’s killers were members of a criminal group led by a Chechen crime boss. Among the ten detainees, Chaika stated, were former and serving officers of the security services who had monitored Politkovskaya’s movements and provided information to the criminal group.

Such arrests mark the first occasion that members of Russia’s security services have been implicated in a contract killing, despite widespread public speculation that they take part in such crimes, said the Financial Times.

The AP reported on October 7 that the Federal Security Service (FSS), the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB, identified one of the 10 arrested individuals as a lieutenant colonel in the FSB, Pavel Ryaguzov, who reportedly gave Politkovskaya’s killers her address.

Politkovskaya’s former colleagues believe her murder was ordered by individuals seeking to punish her for her reporting on abuses in Chechnya, according to the Financial Times. They also said they believe the Kremlin may name a “suspected mastermind to suit its political interests,” according to the AP.

Russian Newspaper Reporter Detained

Russian authorities detained a journalist accused of extorting money from Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev on September 12, according to the AP.

The journalist, who was not identified, is a reporter for the Russian daily newspaper, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta, according to the AP on September 13. The newspaper believes that the reporter was detained on September 12 by authorities hoping to pressure the media before the parliamentary and presidential elections in March 2008.

The Interior Ministry told the AP that the journalist was the newspaper’s deputy editor. He was accused of blackmailing the Agriculture Minister by threatening to disclose compromising information if the Minister did not give him $30,000 in monthly payments.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta made a statement on its Web site, www.ng.ru, asserting that its employee was innocent of extortion. “If the arrest of our employee is an attempt to influence the newspaper’s editorial policy, it’s useless,” the paper commented.

On the day its employee was detained, Nezavisimaya Gazeta published an article critical of Gordeyev, the Agriculture Minister, who released unfounded harvest forecasts that led to a rise in grain prices.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta said it will continue to publish stories critical of the government, according to the AP.

- Amba Datta, Silha Research Assistant

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on October 21, 2009 12:39 PM.

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