Police Tied to Murder of Russian Journalist


New York Times

January 23, 2007

MOSCOW, Jan 23 — Police officials in Chechnya are under criminal investigation for a possible role in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the prominent Russian journalist, a New York-based media rights group said here today.

The assertion, by the Committee to Protect Journalists, cast fresh attention on the possibility of an official role in a crime that was roundly condemned in the West and drew a series of swift denials from Russian and pro-Kremlin Chechen officials.

Ms. Politkovskaya, a special correspondent for the independent liberal tabloid Novaya Gazeta, was murdered in her apartment building in October in an apparent contract killing.

She had written pointedly against the Kremlin under President Vladimir V. Putin’s rule, and often exposed abuses by Russian forces and the Kremlin’s local proxies in Chechnya, the internal Russian republic ruined by a separatist war, banditry and an insurgency influenced by militant Islamic fighters.

Her final article, published posthumously, made further allegations of Chechen police officers torturing people in their custody and fueled speculation that she may have been killed to prevent its publication or as a punishment for her reporting.

In a news conference and a subsequent telephone interview, Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said an official at Russia’s Foreign Ministry told a delegation from the committee that prosecutors were investigating whether police officials were involved in the murder.

Mr. Simon said it was not clear from the official’s statement whether the police officials being investigated were Chechen or Russian.

The Russian and Chechen governments reacted quickly. The Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that the committee’s statement “did not correspond with the facts.”

Ramzan Kadyrov, the young former rebel who is now the pro-Kremlin Chechen premier, vigorously denied that Chechen police officials had been involved.

“Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist, a person in a peaceful profession, and Chechen policemen are not fighting peaceful people,” he said, according to Interfax. “Their goal is to fight terrorists.”

Mr. Kadyrov, who has commanded paramilitary formations of former rebels, has often been accused of brutality and criminality and has been called a suspect in the death of Ms. Politkovskaya, who often published investigations about him and his forces.

He has always emphatically denied committing any crimes.

Mr. Simon stood by the committee’s account of the Russian statements after it was challenged, saying there were several witnesses in the room, and stressing as well that the possible role of Chechen fighters was one of several lines of inquiry. The delegation included Paul E. Steiger, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and chairman of the committee’s board.

“This is what they said,” Mr. Simon said by telephone. “We thought it was our role to be as public as possible about the meetings we had, and this was our effort to report information to the public.”

He said the delegation left the meeting encouraged that an investigation was under way, suggesting the possibility that the crime could be solved. The committee ranks Russia as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.