Famous for her coverage of the Chechen conflict and articles critical of the Kremlin for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya was a symbol of the fight for press freedom in Russia. She was shot four times in the elevator of her Moscow apartment block on 7 October 2006. Coincidentally, Vladimir Putin, who has curbed press freedom and encouraged a climate of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists ever since he took over, was also born on 7 October.
To mark this double anniversary, RSF staff members are organising the release of 1,000 balloons bearing the hashtag #UnhappyBirthdayMrPutin outside the Russian embassies in Paris, Berlin and London, and outside Novaya Gazeta’s headquarters in Moscow.
“Fifteen years later, those who ordered Anna Politkovskaya’s murder have yet to be identified because of a lack of political will,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Knowing that the perpetrators are in prison is not enough. The impunity is all the more tragic because the statute of limitations on her murder expires today. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2018 that her murder was not properly investigated, and the investigation has not progressed since then. Vladimir Putin could offer his country a real present on his birthday – a frontal attack on impunity in a country where nearly 40 journalists have been killed since he took over.”
Novaya Gazeta is a martyrised media outlet with no fewer than five of its reporters murdered in the course of two decades, including Natalia Estemirova, a journalist, activist and friend of Politkovskaya, who also covered Chechnya and who was murdered in 2009. Elena Milashina, who now covers this most oppressive of Russian regions for the newspaper, is fully aware of the dangers.
“In our country, journalists can protect themselves in only one way, by showing that if you kill one journalist, another will always come and in the end you cannot kill all of them,” Milashina says in “They keep journalism alive in Russia,” a new book published by Les Petits Matins that was edited by Johann Bihr and has a postscript by Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.