Anna Politkovskaya | 2002 Courage in Journalism Award
Novaya Gazeta, Russia.
In February 2001, while investigating rapes, beatings and murders committed by the Russian military in the village of Khatuni, Anna Politkovskaya (1958-2006) was arrested and held for three days by the Russian military, allegedly because her press credentials were not in order. During that time, she reported that Russian soldiers threatened to shoot her, rape her and harm her children.
While in Moscow in September 2001, she received several death threats because of her reporting. Initially, she was given security guards for her safety and was instructed by her newspaper not to leave her home. When senior staff decided that these precautions were not enough, her publisher helped her flee to Vienna. She returned to Moscow in December 2001 and continued reporting about Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta.
Politkovskaya graduated from Moscow State University with a degree in journalism in 1980. She worked for several trade newspapers before moving to the weekly newspaper Obshchaya Gazeta, where she worked from 1994-1999. She has worked for Novaya Gazeta since 1999. She is the author of A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya [Harvill Press, London, 2001].
On October 7, 2006, Politkovskaya was fatally shot in the stairwell of her apartment building in central Moscow. Police said a pistol and four shell casings were found beside her body, reports indicated a contract killing. Six people are suspected of involvement in the case – former police officer Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, Chechen-born Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, former police officer Sergei Kadzhikurbanov and the Makhmudov brothers, one of whom is alleged to have been the killer. None of them have been brought to justice.
Politkovskaya faced the possibility of death with her characteristic stoicism: “They say that if you talk about a disaster you can cause it to happen. That is why I never say aloud what I am most afraid of. Just so it won’t happen,” she said in an interview with film maker Eric Bergkraut. She believed that she had a mission to report on the “dirty war” in Chechnya that the Putin regime had launched in the autumn of 1999. By the time of her death, Politkovskaya had made at least fifty trips to Chechnya, a savage and dangerous place that most other Russian journalists avoided.
In her Courage in Journalism Award acceptance speech, she said:
“It is customary to believe that journalists go to places where wars and catastrophes break out because people and the world want to know the truth and the news about these events. In Russia things are just the opposite today. The people do not want to know the truth about the ongoing war. They have been subjected to a powerful ideological brainwash and were led to believe that the events in Chechnya are nothing but an anti-terrorist operation, and they do not want to know what really takes place there. They do not wish to hear about the crimes committed by the military, about the sufferings of the civilian population or about the thousands of victims on all the sides. So, the courage of a journalist under such circumstances consists in giving this information to the people, much against their will, and make them think about the tragedy that the country is going through, think that this must be stopped.
You may ask, why? Why, if people do not want that?
The answer is simple: this is our duty, the duty of a journalist. A doctor performs an operation. A journalist operates on the public opinion. The need to risk is part of the profession here. If you are tired and cannot take the risk any more, you have to leave. As for me, I am not tired yet.” – October 16, 2002, New York
Anna Politkovskaya did not attend the Courage in Journalism Award ceremony in Los Angeles on October 24, 2002. Instead, at the request of Chechen rebels who had taken more than 900 people hostage in a Moscow theater, she was on a plane, flying to Russia to help with negotiations. She left this message to be read at the awards ceremony:
“I want to thank you once again. It is a great honor for me to receive the Courage in Journalism Award. However – and I think you will agree with me – it is an even greater honor for me to respond when Destiny offers the opportunity to help people when a crisis strikes.
There’s a big tragedy unfolding in Russia today, and those circumstances require that it is today, and not a day later that I need to prove that I indeed have courage. I have always believed that Russian journalism, first and foremost, is the journalism of action. The journalism of taking the step that you simply must take.
Please pray for us, those who are directly affected by this crisis. And of course, say a prayer for me.”
Anna Politkovskaya is the first Courage in Journalism Award winner from Russia.