Russia: Impunity for killers of journalists

7 October 2009 marks the third anniversary of the killing of Anna Politkovskaya. Since then, more journalists have been killed, including Anna’s friend and colleague, the courageous Natalia Estemirova, murdered in August this year. Politkovskaya’s lawyer, Stanislav Markelov was shot dead on a Moscow street on 19 January. Killed alongside him was Anastasya Baburova, a young reporter described as a rising star in independent journalism. She died as she tried to apprehend Markelov’s killer. Estemirova, was at the press conference at which Markelov had spoken out against the early release of a Russian army colonel who had murdered a Chechen woman. She was present at his funeral a few days later. On 15 July this year, she was kidnapped outside her home in full public view. Her body, bearing signs of a violent struggle, was found across the border in Ingushetia. With her murder came the closure of the Grozny office of Memorial, and the withdrawal from Chechnya of reporters working for Politkovskaya’s newspaper Novaya Gazeta.  The situation for journalists and human rights defenders in Chechnya could not be more grim.

Twenty writers and journalists have been killed since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000. In only one case has anyone been brought to justice. In Anna Politkovskaya’s case, four people tried for her murder were acquitted in February 2009 of being accessories to her murder because there was insufficient evidence. However, in June a retrial was ordered and the investigation will be merged with another that aims to identify the person who actually shot Politkovskaya as well as the person who ordered the killing. There is speculation that this could lead to people high up in the Kremlin. The family insist that justice cannot be seen to be done unless the mastermind behind her death is brought to justice.  For more on the retrial, please click here

The continued, and indeed escalating, number of murders of journalists arises from the lack of trials, the corruption and inadequacies of the trial processes, and the overall culture of impunity that those who murder critics enjoy in Russia.

On 15 September, the Committee to Protect Journalists published an excellent report, Anatomy of Justice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in Russia. It documents the cases of 17 murdered journalists, and analyses their cases. The report concludes with recommendations aimed at the Russian government and international community to put an end to impunity. The report also includes samples of writings by some of the murdered journalists. This report is highly recommended reading. To read the report, please click here.

What can you do?




Write to the Russian authorities and your own governments urging that they take on board the recommendations in the CPJ report.




Mr Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Fax: 7 095 206 5173 / 230 2408
Mr Chaika Yuri Yakovlevich
Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Ishaya Dmitrovka 1 a GSP e
Moscow 12599 3
Fax 7 095 292 88 4



At CPJ’s launch of its report in London, a member of a Russian NGO pointed out that “One article [in the foreign press] is worth more than ten appeals from Russian NGOs”. There was a call on NGOs to do their best to keep the appalling situation for free expression in the public eye. PEN members are well placed to do this, through writing articles, staging public events and other publicity


The 7 October anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s death is one opportunity to raise publicity and others can be found through the year. Official visits abroad are good opportunities for articles and letters to editors, as are key points in Politkovskaya’s trial or, as is sadly inevitable, with news of other attacks.



Anna Politkovskaya Award Ceremony


On Tuesday 6 October, the eve of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, RAW in WAR honours her memory and the work of other women like her in the world, by presenting the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award to a courageous human rights defender from Iran.


Hosted by Jon Snow, the ceremony will be a powerful and moving event, a creative mix of music, film and readings by special guests, including Azar Nafisi, Eva Hoffman and Gillian Slovo and performances from Sussan Deyhim, Cellorhythmics and others.

The event will be held at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG from 8pm.


To book tickets, please visit  (save £2 by booking on line) or by phone on 020 7520 1490.


Memorial service for Anna Politkovskaya


At 11.30am on Wednesday 7 October, the third anniversary of Anna’s murder, a memorial service will be held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, in her honour. All welcome. Please do come along if you can.

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