Russian Journalist Critical of Chechnya War Killed

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MOSCOW - An award-winning journalist known for her critical coverage of the war in Chechnya was shot to death Saturday in her Moscow apartment building in a killing prosecutors believe could be connected to her investigative work.

Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was found dead in an elevator in her apartment building in central Moscow.

Prosecutors have opened a murder investigation, said Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor's office.

Politkovskaya, a tireless investigative reporter and highly respected journalist, was well-known for chronicling the killings, tortures and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen in Chechnya in reports that put her on a collision course with the authorities but won her numerous international awards.

"People sometimes pay with their lives for saying out loud what they think. People can even get killed just for giving me information," Reporters Without Borders quoted her as saying at a press freedom conference in Vienna in December.

She also wrote a book critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military campaign in Chechnya, documenting widespread abuse of civilians by government troops. And she was a persistent critic of Chechnya's Moscow-backed Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, accusing his widely feared security force of kidnapping and torturing civilians.

"Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, almost every time the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya," said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

He said Politkovskaya had frequently received threats, and that a few months ago, unknown assailants had tried unsuccessfully to break into a car her daughter, Vera, was driving.

"There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya," Panfilov said, referring to Politkovskaya by her nickname.

Politkovskaya began reporting on Chechnya in 1999 during Russia's second military campaign there, concentrating on the human side of the war. She wrote about the Chechen inhabitants of refugee camps and wounded Russian soldiers - until she was banned from visiting the hospitals, Panfilov said.

In 2004, she fell seriously ill with symptoms of food poisoning after drinking tea on a flight from Moscow to southern Russia during the school hostage crisis in Beslan, where many thought she was heading to mediate. Her colleagues suspected the incident was an attempt on her life.

She had been one of the few people to enter the Moscow theater where Chechen militants seized hundreds of hostages in October 2002 to try negotiating with the rebels. She later devoted much of her investigative reporting to that crisis, in which 129 victims died. She likewise focused her attention on the Beslan tragedy.

"Anna was a hero to so many of us, and we'll miss her personally, but we'll also miss the information that she and only she was brave enough and dedicated enough to dig out and make public," said Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Politkovskaya's murder is the highest-profile killing of a journalist in Russia since the July 2004 slaying of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.

Russia has become one of the deadliest countries for journalists. Twenty-three journalists were killed in Russia between 1996 and 2005, many in Chechnya, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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