Russia: Journalist and Author Anna Politkovskaya murdered

***UPDATE: Over two years after the death of Russian journalist and author Anna Politskovaya, three men charged with involvement in her murder will go on trial today (15 October 2008) in a court in Moscow. For more information, please click here.***

English PEN is shocked to hear that Russian journalist and author Anna Politkovskaya was found shot dead in an elevator in her Moscow apartment building on Saturday 7th October.

Politkovskaya’s most recent book, Putin’s Russia, could not be published in her home country, and became the first book to be honoured with an English PEN Writers in Translation award. At an event to launch the book in London, she explained the pessimism that pervaded her writing. The problem, she said, was that people would queue up outside the offices of Novaya Gazeta (the Moscow-based newspaper for which she wrote) to tell her about their lives – and these stories themselves were deeply depressing.

She was known as ‘Russia’s lost moral conscience’, but her commitment to recording the reality of life in the former Soviet Union made her a controversial figure. In an unpublished essay to be included in the forthcoming English PEN/Profile anthology, Another Sky, Politkovskaya wrote: ‘I am a pariah. You don’t get used to this, but you learn to live with it.’

She had been receiving threats since she wrote articles in 1999 claiming that the Russian armed forces had committed human rights abuses in Chechnya. Despite these threats she continued to write. In 2003 she published A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya and contributed to A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. And she refused to leave Russia for England.

English PEN urges the Russian authorities to ensure that the enquiry into the circumstances surrounding her death is full and independent, and that impunity will no longer prevail in the killing of journalists.

Alastair Niven, President of English PEN, said: ‘Anna’s death is a devastating blow for all of us who valued the witness she bore to events in Chechnya. She was in the best tradition of investigative journalism, and the fact that she has had to pay for this with her life is an appalling tragedy.’

Carole Seymour-Jones, Chair of English PEN’s Writers in Prison committee, said: ‘Anna seemed barely aware of the extreme dangers she was facing. She’d had attempts on her life already, and just said she had to do her duty. We salute her extraordinary courage – and that of those like her who value freedom over their lives. She is a martyr to free expression.’

Amanda Hopkinson, Chair of English PEN’s Writers in Translation award committee, said: ‘Whilst Putin’s Russia is a ferocious – and at times furious – indictment of current corruption, the persistence of ‘state  colonialism’ and KGB tactics in Russia and beyond, Anna Politkovskaya’s research was never less than profound and thorough. She was arguably the one publicly-recognised specialist on the wars in Chechnya. The fact that she was looking to publish a new version of events in Chechnya, knowing full well what risks she was taking with her own life, is testament to her belief that the pen is mightier than the sword.’

Contact: Jonathan Heawood on 07889 071711 or

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