Hundreds join Politkovskaya birthday rally

Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in October last year, would have celebrated her 49th birthday on Thursday. Rallies have been taking place in Moscow and Ekaterinburg to pay tribute to the writer and human rights activist.

Among those who gathered in Moscow to pay their respects to the murdered reporter were fellow journalists and human rights activists.

“I respected and loved Anna Politkovskaya just like I respect all journalists who work in the same honest way that she did,” said Lyudmila Alekseeva, Chairwoman of Moscow Helsinki Group.

Internet journalist Stanislav Yakovlev said Politkovskaya had an important role to play, even after her death.

“We need to remember her, to remember her example. Because if we don’t, I don’t know what the yardstick for our journalists should be,” he said.

But ordinary Moscow citizens also turned out, eager to show their support for the murdered reporter and what she represented.

“She was an example of honest journalism. People trusted her. They knew she could get to the bottom of things,” said maths teacher, Viktor Barun. 

Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead last October as she returned home to her apartment block in central Moscow.  The killer was waiting inside on the first floor, near the elevator.

Colleagues remembering Politkovskaya
Colleagues remembering Politkovskaya

Earlier this week the Russian Prosecutor General, Yury Chaika, announced that ten people have been arrested in connection with the killing.

“At the head of all this was the leader of a Moscow criminal group, a Chechen resident, engaged in criminal activity and specialising in contract killings. According to evidence uncovered, the group organised several contract killings not only in Russia, but also in Ukraine and Latvia. Unfortunately, former and current employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as a member of the Federal Security Service were also involved in the tracking and the supplying of information about Anna Politkovskaya,” Mr Chaika stated.

The Prosecutor General also said the evidence suggested a conspiracy planned from abroad.

Former colleagues of Politkovskaya were far from happy with the statement, believing it was premature and political.

Staff at Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked for seven years, criticized the release of the information, saying the case is far from closed.  

“We are concerned that in an election year this crime may be used by different groups for their own aims. That, unfortunately, is our Russian illness and the way things work here,” commented Sergey Sokolov, Deputy Chief Editor of Novaya Gazeta.

“You see, we are not critical of the results of the official investigation. We know that detectives are working hard and are doing everything to solve this crime.  I know that because our journalists are in close contact with investigation team at the state prosecutor’s office. The problem, as we see it, is the political nature of the statement made by Russia's Prosecutor General, Yury Chaika. He was clear about where the investigators should find the perpetrators of the crime, and even gave us their motives.  We don't understand why the Prosecutor General made this statement before the criminal case was concluded and before everything was made clear,” Roman Shleynov, a former colleague of Anna Politkovskaya and Head of Investigative Journalism at the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, said.

Born in the U.S., Politkovskaya made her name reporting from Chechnya. The award-winning journalist and author of several books was a harsh critic of President Putin’s administration.

Sergey Sokolov,   
             Deputy Chief Editor of Novaya Gazeta
Sergey Sokolov, Deputy Chief Editor of Novaya Gazeta

Her hard-hitting news stories and investigative reporting earned her critics and admirers in equal measure.

Her murder drew widespread condemnation, some saying Politkovskaya’s death was a blow to freedom of speech in Russia.

A reward of $US 1 MLN has been offered by Novaya Gazeta to solve the murder.  That has yet to be claimed.

Two of the ten people arrested on suspicion of being involved in the murder have reportedly been released.

Russia's General Prosecutor's Office won't confirm or deny the information saying it isn't allowed to comment on an on-going investigation.

However, it says anyone released from custody can still face prosecution.