Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed in Moscow in 2006. On Thursday, Rustam Makhmudov was charged with her murder. Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists joins us from Moscow to talk about the case against Makhmudov and whether his arrest signifies a change for journalists in Russia.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Thursday, a 37-year-old Chechen man named Rustam Makhmudov was indicted for the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in the entrance of her apartment building in 2006. Politkovskaya was renowned for her courage. She opposed Russia’s war in Chechnya. She wrote about human rights abuses by Russian military forces and by Chechen rebels. She was loathed by both sides.
The Putin Kremlin downplayed her role. Vladimir Putin said that although she was known throughout the world, in Russia Politkovskaya was not very influential. And, as in the case of virtually all murders of journalists in Russia, the prosecution against the accomplices to Politkovskaya’s murder fell apart. But current President Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to do better. So eyes are on the upcoming prosecution of Rustam Makhmudov.
NINA OGNIANOVA: Obviously, the Makhmudovs are only links in the chain, and their indictments and their successful conviction is only a stepping-stone toward full justice in this crime and in other crimes against journalists.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When you consider the history of nations and, and the formation of democracy, where would you put Russia, say, in comparison to Pakistan? I mean, when you look at the death of Saleem Shahzad and the death of Politkovskaya, do you see Russia as being ahead of Pakistan, in terms of developing the system of justice and the incentive to pursue these cases?
NINA OGNIANOVA: Well, the Committee to Protect Journalists just published our so-called “Impunity Index” that compiles a list of countries where journalists are killed and their killers remain at large. In this list, Iraq is the country where killers have gone unpunished most often. Somalia is number two. The Philippines are number three. Sri Lanka is fourth. Colombia is fifth. Afghanistan is the sixth. Nepal is the seventh. Mexico is the eighth. And Russia comes as number nine in this list. Russia is in the company, as well, of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brazil and India.
CPJ’s Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population, and for this index CPJ examines journalist murders that occurred between January 2001 through December 31st, 2010 and that remain unsolved.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So CPJ doesn't see a big distinction then between Russia and Pakistan.
NINA OGNIANOVA: No. In fact, Russia is number nine in the index and Pakistan is number ten.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How does the murder of journalists accord with the murder of civilians, generally?
NINA OGNIANOVA: Well, it’s interesting that, by the admission of Russia’s law enforcement, 80 percent of murders at large in Russia are solved. Now, compare that with the 90-something percent of killings of journalists that remain unsolved. Journalists are being targeted because they are the diggers of inconvenient and embarrassing truths, and they pay the ultimate price.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We talked to a human rights activist a few years back in Moscow and he had no faith at all in Russian justice. Do you?
NINA OGNIANOVA: Back in 2009, CPJ published a report called “Anatomy of Injustice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in Russia.” And we discovered that investigations fall apart at every level, from the detectives’ work, to the prosecution, to the judiciary, a lack of transparency, an absence of accountability, a susceptibility to external influences and an inability to pursue cases to their conclusion.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So are you more hopeful now?
NINA OGNIANOVA: Well, we are an advocacy group, and we will always be hopeful that things can change for the better. I think what could turn the tide is a combination of public interest, more thorough work from the investigation, better political will to see these cases to their completion, and the involvement of the international community. We have seen that all of these factors can make a difference.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nina, thank you very much.
NINA OGNIANOVA: You’re welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nina Ognianova is the program coordinator in Europe and Central Asia for the Committee to Protect Journalists. She joined us from Moscow.
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