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Colleagues mark decade since murder of Russia journalist

October 7, 2016

Colleagues of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya gathered Friday at the office of her paper Novaya Gazeta exactly 10 years after the crusading reporter was shot dead.

The 2006 murder, committed on President Vladimir Putin’s birthday, sent shockwaves around the world, particularly in the West where Politkovskaya was widely known for her critical investigations on the Kremlin’s policies in the war-ravaged Chechnya region.

While five men were found guilty of carrying out the contract hit on Politkovskaya in the entrance hall of her Moscow apartment, those who ordered the killing have never been identified — leaving her loved ones still hunting for justice.

A crowd of friends, former colleagues and Western diplomats bowed their heads in a brief silent tribute to mark the moment 48-year-old Politkovskaya was killed.

Supporters laid flowers at a memorial plaque in her memory on the wall of the Novaya Gazeta office.

“It is impossible to say that the murder is solved when those who ordered it have not been found,” an emotional Sergei Sokolov, the paper’s deputy editor, told journalists.

The killing of Politkovskaya sent a chill through Russia’s small community of independent journalists — at a time when the Kremlin was turning the screws on critical reporting.

“Justice stopped halfway,” Politkovskaya’s son Ilya told AFP ahead of the anniversary.

“Many politicians say the case is closed, but that’s a lie. We’re nowhere near. The organisers have yet to go on trial.”

While Russian officials were silent on the anniversary, the US State Department praised Poltikovskaya’s “courage and persistence” in reporting on the Kremlin’s two brutal wars in Chechnya.

“We again call upon the Russian government to bring to justice those responsible for ordering, planning and executing Ms Politkovskaya’s murder,” the State Department said.

– ‘Trails lead back to Chechnya’ –

In June 2014 after a protracted investigation and trial, a Moscow court handed long sentences to the five suspects — four of whom were ethnic Chechens — suspected of carrying out the killing.

But a group of investigators set up to identify the masterminds has made no breakthrough in two years, with colleagues pointing the finger of blame at Chechnya’s Kremlin-loyal leadership under strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

“All the trails lead back to Chechnya, to the highest level of its elite, but the Russian authorities are stalling the investigation,” Pavel Kanygin, a journalist at Novaya Gazeta, told AFP earlier this week.

“Until there is a change of political regime in Russia, those who gave the order will remain free.”

Painful memories of Politkovskaya’s killing were revived by the high-profile murder of leading Putin critic Boris Nemtsov just yards from the Kremlin on February 27, 2015.

This week five men — all Chechen — went on trial in Moscow for the carrying out the killing of the former deputy prime minister, but yet again his allies insist none of the masterminds have been uncovered.

In memory of Politkovskaya, the Raw in War group — which supports rights defenders in conflict-ravaged countries — handed a prize named in her honour to Russian activist Valentina Cherevatenko and Columbian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.