The five alleged hitmen of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist murdered eight years ago because of her investigative reporting in Chechnya, have been found guilty. The perpetrators were convicted by the Moscow Court on June 9th. However, the real reasons for the attack have not yet come to light, nor has the connection between the murder and the threats that the journalist received before 2006.
25 months before her murder, Politkovskaya was threatened while on board a plane destined for the heart of the Caucasus. 100 minors were taken hostage at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia by Chechen separatists. The official version of events, largely parlayed by Russian media covering the event, hid the real motives behind the hostage taking. Instead, it was portrayed as a spontaneous kidnapping that would be remembered as the Beslan School Massacre for the 186 children and adults who were massacred following the botched intervention of Russian agents. Anna Politkovskaya intended to go where the journalists working on behalf of the Kremlin didn't dare.
Who tried to kill her on board the plane to Ossetia? On September 9th, 2004, the Guardian published Poisoned by Putin, an article in which the journalist accused the top brass of the Russian government of ordering the attempted attack.
Murdered on putin's birthday
It would be three gunshots that sentenced the journalist to death. On October 7th, 2006, as Vladimir Putin celebrated his 54th birthday, Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in the foyer of her home in Moscow. A group of five men set out to kill her, all of whom were later found guilty on June 9th in Moscow: Rustam Makhmoudov and Lom-Ali Gaitukaev, respectively considered the enforcer and the architect of the murder, were sentenced to life imprisonment; two brothers and an ex-police officer were also convicted for taking part in the ambush of the reporter.
The punishments were handed down after the Russian Supreme Court threw out the first guilty verdict against the accused due to 'serious procedural flaws', while the Moscow Court sentenced another prime suspect of the murder. Dmitry Pavliutchenkov, a former police officer, was sentenced to hard labour for stalking the journalist and providing the murderers with useful information that eventually helped them to organise the ambush.
For the moment, only the ex-lieutenant colonel is the only prime suspect to be tried for the killing. After agreeing to cooperate with the justice system, news that the agent was ready to reveal sensitive information on the case spurred interest from press around the world. However, Pavliutchenkov's accusations were designed to trap Putin's enemies: he identified the masterminds of the murder as a Chechen separatist and a Russian oligarch, both bitter nemeses of Vladimir Putin. "Pavliutchenkov only said what the investigators want him to say," commented the Deputy Director of the Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked at the time of the murder.
Investigative reporting to evade censorship
Although the Politkovskaya case has received a lot of attention in Europe, it has been difficult for journalists to gather reliable information about the proceedings, particularly about the true identity of the mastermind behind the murder. Internet has been the most reliable source, as anti-Kremlin journalists continue to denounce the continued silence of the Russian press and rely on media that elude potential censorship. "It's absurd," wrote Politkovskaya in her 2004 article, "but was it not the same under communism, when everyone knew that the authorities were talking rubbish but pretended it was true? We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss (...) The Internet remains the only place where you can still find free information. For the rest, if you want to continue to be a journalist, you need to swear absolute loyalty to Putin."
Stories of the massacre in chechnya
The reports by 'Anja', as friends called the Russian journalist, describe in detail the reality of the Second Chechen War, that very bloody conflict that was heavily censored for Russian journalists and the rest of the world. The reasons behind the conflict between Russia and Chechnya were meant to be apparent to all: on one side, Putin-style Russian democracy, and on the other, a band of Chechen fundamentalists whose aim is to establish Sharia law. Anna Politkovskaya wanted to reveal the real reasons behind the conflict and above all, tell the stories of the Chechen people, victims of a genocide. She was thorough, going to villages unknown to the public, where the slaughter of innocents was could be carried out in complete indifference.
This was the only way to obtain real eyewitness accounts, uncensored by the military press; also the only way to give a voice to silent victims. A love of truth that made her run away from a destiny that for her would have entailed easy entry into Russian high society along with its privileges. Instead, she chose the path towards death. "Being a person in Chechnya" — said an article signed by Politkovskaya and published in Internazionale — "does not have the same meaning as in the West. A person in Chechnya is a subject devoid of any rights without the possibility of relying on state structures. "