Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya( Russian journalist, author and human rights activist)
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Biography Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya
Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya (Russian: А́нна Степа́новна Политко́вская; 30 August 1958 - 7 October 2006) was a Russian journalist, author and human rights activist well known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and then-President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
Politkovskaya made her name reporting from Chechnya. Her constant stream of articles after 1999 about conditions in Chechnya were turned into several books but Russian readers' main access to her investigations and publications was through Novaya gazeta, a Russian newspaper well-known in the country for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs. From 2000 onwards she received numerous prestigious international awards for her work. In 2004 she published a personal account: Putin's Russia.
Politkovskaya was born Anna Mazepa in New York City in 1958. Her parents were Ukrainian and both worked as diplomats at the United Nations. Anna grew up in Moscow and graduated in 1980 from the Moscow State University's faculty of journalism. While there she defended a thesis about the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva and married fellow student Alexander Politkovsky. They had two children, Vera and Ilya. At first Alexander was the better known, joining TV journalist Vladislav Listyev as one of the hosts on the late night TV programme Vzglyad. Apart from her childhood years, Politkovskaya spent no more than a few weeks out of Russia at any one time, even when her life came under threat. She acquired a US passport but did not cease to be a Russian citizen.
Politkovskaya worked for Izvestia from 1982 to 1993 and as a reporter and editor of emergencies/accidents section, then later (1994-1999) as assistant chief editor of Obshchaya Gazeta headed by Yegor Yakovlev where she wrote frequently about social problems and, in particular, the plight of refugees. From June 1999 to 2006, she wrote columns for the biweekly Novaya gazeta, a paper with strong investigative reporting and critical from the outset of the new post-1991 regime. She published several award-winning books about Chechnya, life in Russia, and President Putin's regime, including Putin's Russia.
She used each of these occasions to urge greater concern and responsibility by Western governments which, after 9/11, welcomed Putin's contribution to their "war on terror".
She said about herself that she was not an investigating magistrate but somebody who describes the life of the citizens for those who cannot see it for themselves, because what is shown on television and written about in the overwhelming majority of newspapers is emasculated and doused with ideology. She talked to officials, the military and the police and also frequently visited hospitals and refugee camps, in Chechnya and in neighbouring Ingushetia, to interview those injured and uprooted by the renewed fighting.
In numerous articles critical of the war in Chechnya and the new pro-Kremlin regime there, Politkovskaya described alleged abuses committed by Russian military forces, Chechen rebels, and the Russian-backed administration led by Akhmad Kadyrov and his son Ramzan Kadyrov. She also chronicled human rights abuses and policy failures elsewhere in the North Caucasus. In one characteristic instance she not only wrote about the plight of an ethnically mixed old people's home under bombardment in Grozny in 1999 but with the aid of her newspaper and public support helped to secure the safe evacuation of its elderly inhabitants. Her articles, many of which form the basis of A Dirty War (2001) and A Small Corner of Hell (2003), depict a conflict that brutalised both Chechen fighters and conscript soldiers in the federal army and created hell for the civilians caught between them. As Politkovskaya reported, the order supposedly restored under the Kadyrovs became a regime of endemic torture, abduction, and murder, by either the new Chechen authorities or the various federal forces based in Chechnya. One of her last investigations was into the alleged mass poisoning of Chechen school children by a strong and unknown chemical substance which incapacitated them for many months.
After Politkovskaya became widely known in the West she was commissioned to write Putin's Russia (later subtitled Life in a Failing Democracy), a broader account of her views and experiences after former KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Putin became prime minister to Boris Yeltsin and then succeeded him as president. Naturally, this included Putin's pursuit of the Second Chechen War. In the book, she accused the Russian secret service, FSB, of stifling all civil liberties in order to establish a Soviet-style dictatorship, but admitted "[It] is we who are responsible for Putin's policies...[s]ociety has shown limitless apathy...[a]s the Chekists have become entrenched in power, we have let them see our fear, and thereby have only intensified their urge to treat us like cattle. The KGB respects only the strong. The weak it devours. We of all people ought to know that." She also wrote:
We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it's total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial - whatever our special services, Putin's guard dogs, see fit."
People often tell me that I am a pessimist, that I don't believe in the strength of the Russian people, that I am obsessive in my opposition to Putin and see nothing beyond that," she opens an essay titled Am I Afraid?, finishing it - and the book - with the words: "If anybody thinks they can take comfort from the 'optimistic' forecast, let them do so. It is certainly the easier way, but it is the death sentence for our grandchildren."
In May 2007, posthumously, Random House published Anna Politkovskaya's A Russian Diary, containing extracts from her notebook and other writings. Subtitled A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia, the book gives her account of the period from December 2003 to August 2005, including what she described as "the death of Russian parliamentary democracy", the Beslan school hostage crisis, and the "winter and summer of discontent" from January to August 2005. Because she was murdered "while translation was being completed, final editing had to go ahead without her help," wrote translator Arch Tait in a note to the book.
Politkovskaya was closely involved in attempts to negotiate the release of hostages in the Moscow theater hostage crisis of 2002. When the Beslan school hostage crisis erupted in the North Caucasus in early September 2004, Anna Politkovskaya attempted to fly there to act as a mediator but was taken off the plane, acutely ill in Rostov-on-Don.
In Moscow, she was not invited to press conferences or gatherings that Kremlin officials might attend, in case the organizers were suspected of harboring sympathies toward her. Despite this, many top officials allegedly talked to her when she was writing articles or conducting investigations. According to one of her articles, they did talk to her, "but only when they weren't likely to be observed: outside in crowds, or in houses that they approached by different routes, like spies". She also claimed that the Kremlin tried to block her access to information and discredit her: "I will not go into the other joys of the path I have chosen, the poisoning, the arrests, the threats in letters and over the Internet, the telephoned death threats, the weekly summons to the prosecutor general's office to sign statements about practically every article I write (the first question being, 'How and where did you obtain this information?'). Of course I don't like the constant derisive articles about me that appear in other newspapers and on Internet sites presenting me as the madwoman of Moscow. I find it disgusting to live this way. I would like a bit more understanding."
After Politkovskaya's murder her colleague at Novaya gazeta Vyacheslav Izmailov (a military man who had helped negotiate the release of dozens of hostages in Chechnya before 1999) said that he knew of at least nine previous occasions when Anna had faced death, and commented, "Frontline soldiers do not usually go into battle so often and survive".
Politkovskaya herself did not deny being afraid but felt responsible and concerned for those who were her informants. While attending a conference on the freedom of press organized by Reporters Without Borders in Vienna in December 2005, Politkovskaya said: "People sometimes pay with their lives for saying aloud what they think. In fact, one can even get killed for giving me information. I am not the only one in danger. I have examples that prove it." She often received death threats as a result of her work, including being threatened with rape and experiencing a mock execution after being arrested by the military in Chechnya.
Early in 2001 Politkovskaya was detained by military officials in the southern mountain village of Khottuni. Politkovskaya was investigating complaints from 90 Chechen families about "punitive raids" by federal forces. She interviewed a Chechen grandmother Rosita from a village of Tovzeni who endured 12 days of beatings, electric shocks and confinement in a pit. The men who arrested Rosita presented themselves as FSB employees. The torturers requested a ransom from Rosita's relatives who negotiated a smaller amount that they were able to pay. Another interviewee described killings and rapes of Chechen men in a "concentration camp with a commercial streak" near the village of Khottuni.
Upon leaving the camp, Politkovskaya was detained, interrogated, beaten and humiliated by Russian troops. "...the young officers tortured me, skillfully hitting my sore spots. They looked through my children's pictures, making a point of saying what they would like to do to the kids. This went on for about three hours." She was subjected to a mock execution using a BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket system, then poisoned with a cup of tea that made her vomit. Her tape records were confiscated. She described her mock execution:
A lieutenant colonel with a swarthy face and dull dark bulging eyes said in a businesslike tone: "Let's go. I'm going to shoot you." He led me out of the tent into complete darkness. The nights here are impenetrable. After we walked for a while, he said, "Ready or not, here I come." Something burst with pulsating fire around me, screeching, roaring, and growling. The lieutenant colonel was very happy when I crouched in fright. It turned out that he had led me right under the "Grad" rocket launcher at the moment it was fired.
After the mock execution, the Russian lieutenant colonel said to her: "Here's the banya. Take off your clothes." Seeing that his words had no effect, he got very angry: "A real lieutenant colonel is courting you, and you say no, you militant bitch."
In 2006 European Court of Human Rights found Russian Federation responsible for the forced disappearance of an Ingush militant suspect Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev. Colonel-General Alexander Baranov, the commander of the Russian Kavkaz deployment mentioned by Politkovskaya's camp guide as the one who ordered captured militants to be kept in the pits, was caught on video as he ordered Yandiyev to be executed.
In 2001, Politkovskaya fled to Vienna, following e-mail threats that a police officer whom she had accused of atrocities against civilians in Chechnya was looking to take revenge. Corporal Sergei Lapin was arrested and charged in 2002, but the case against him was closed the following year. In 2005, Lapin was convicted and jailed for torturing and disappearing[clarification needed] a Chechen civilian detainee, the case exposed by Anna Politkovskaya in the article "Disappearing People".
In 2004, Politkovskaya had a conversation with Chechnya's then prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov. One of his assistants said to her: "Someone ought to have shot you back in Moscow, right on the street, like they do in your Moscow". Ramzan repeated after him: "You're an enemy. To be shot...". On the day of her murder, said Novaya Gazeta's chief editor Dmitry Muratov, Politkovskaya had planned to file a lengthy story on torture practices believed to be used by Chechen security detachments known as Kadyrovites. In the last interview of her life she described Kadyrov, now president of Chechnya, as the "Chechen Stalin of our days".
Politkovskaya was found dead in the lift of her block of flats in central Moscow on Saturday 7 October 2006. She was shot twice in the chest, once in the shoulder, and once in the head at point blank range. The funeral was held on Tuesday, 10 October, at 2:30 PM at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery. Before Politkovskaya was laid to rest, more than one thousand filed past her coffin to pay their last respects.
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