AP: Fear and Mourning At Novaya Gazeta
- Fear and Mourning At Novaya Gazeta
02 February 2009 By Mike Eckel / The Associated Press
The dead loom over the morning editorial meeting at leading
investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The staff is trying to plan the
next issue, and editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov is in an understandably
In a corner hang photos of four reporters he has lost in the past
eight years one beaten to death, one allegedly poisoned, two shot
the most recent on Jan. 19.
It's not easy to put a paper out these days, Muratov said.
"There's usually a lot of jokes, laughing, talk about ideas. But our
batteries are totally spent," said Muratov, 47, billows of pipe smoke
filling the long pauses. "How can there be any sort of [normal] frame
of mind when a journalist is being buried?"
That journalist was Anastasia Baburova, a 25-year-old reporter. She
and a human rights lawyer were shot execution-style by a masked man
with a silenced pistol as they walked together a few blocks from the
In a country considered one of the most dangerous for journalists, no
newspaper has suffered like Novaya Gazeta. Most media have been cowed
into submission, and no other newspaper publishes such probing
investigative articles and acid commentary about government
corruption, police-state politics and war abuses in Chechnya.
"Every two or three years, we lose someone," said Yelena Kostyuchenko,
a 21-year-old investigative writer for the paper. "But you just have
to write, write, write and keep writing. You have to."
Some 16 journalists have died in contract-style slayings or under
suspicious circumstances in Russia since 2000. Many more have been
assaulted or threatened.
Under Vladimir Putin, who became president in 2000 and now is prime
minister, the television networks watched by most Russians were taken
over by the state, their news operations highly sanitized. Big-selling
newspapers are either sympathetic to the Kremlin or owned by
Kremlin-allied business groups.
Of the many free-spirited papers that sprang up when the Soviet Union
collapsed, Novaya Gazeta meaning New Newspaper is a rare survivor.
Its most high-profile loss was Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter who
savaged the Kremlin for its conduct of the war on Chechen separatists.
Her shooting outside her Moscow apartment in 2006 provoked worldwide
condemnation and major embarrassment for the Kremlin.
Three Chechens two brothers and a former police officer are on
trial for Politkovskaya's murder, but the prosecution is not offering
a motive or identifying any mastermind, leading Novaya Gazeta and
others to claim that the trial is a cover-up. Putin has claimed that
the killing was hatched abroad to discredit Russia.
The paper's first fatality, in 2000, was Igor Domnikov, who wrote
about regional corruption. He was attacked with a hammer. Seven
members of a criminal gang were convicted of his murder in 2007. The
lead defendant claimed a regional governor had Domnikov killed for
criticizing him. The governor was not charged.
In 2003, Yury Shchekochikhin died of a severe allergic reaction, but
colleagues claimed that he was poisoned. Shchekochikhin, 53, wrote
about high-level corruption and investigated the deadly 1999 bombings
of apartment blocks.
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
With the latest killing, Muratov says, "Our batteries are totally spent."
In the latest killing, it appears that lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who
specialized in defending Chechens, environmentalists and human rights
activists, was the primary target and Baburova may have been killed
after she tried to intervene.
Many at Novaya Gazeta are convinced that nationalist or fascist groups
are behind the latest attacks, and the paper's own blog is full of
anonymous postings celebrating the killings. Others suspect the
involvement of security agencies, citing past incidents when Novaya
Gazeta's phones were tapped; in 2000, its computer hard drives were
Novaya Gazeta writers and editors have attended self-defense classes
and keep their notes hidden or stored on secure computer servers. Some
use pseudonyms. At least one has bodyguards because of death threats.
Others take precautions they won't discuss. Alexander Lebedev, a
billionaire former lawmaker who is part-owner of the paper, is
demanding that authorities allow its reporters to carry guns.
Not all the paper's staff support the idea. Muratov, the editor, does.
"Either we defend ourselves or we go write about nature and birds
and all positive things. We become a tabloid," he said. "And then we
don't write about the security services. We don't write about
corruption. We don't write about fascism."
Yulia Latynina, a radio show host and Novaya Gazeta columnist who is
relentlessly critical of Putin, blames fascist gangs for the killings
and accuses police agencies and security forces of sympathizing or
even cooperating with them.
Like Politkovskaya, her name appears regularly on death lists
circulating on the Internet. Is she afraid? Latynina demurs, saying,
"The Kremlin doesn't need another Politkovskaya."
Vera Chelysheva, who writes for the paper's web site, said most
Russians are indifferent to the murders.
"This is a country that lived through the gulag camps, through Stalin,
they know how to kill people. That's why no one is taking to the
streets in protest," she said. "This is a country that's forgetting
Founded in 1993, Novaya Gazeta is published thrice-weekly and its
circulation has climbed to 270,000 less than the state-run or
pro-Kremlin newspapers but strong among Russians who seek an
independent voice on touchy issues such as government corruption or
A libel judgment nearly shut it down in 2002. Then, three years ago,
Lebedev and former President Mikhail Gorbachev bought a 49 percent
stake for an undisclosed sum. The journalists hold the remaining shares.
Two days after the latest killings, half the front page was filled
with a photo of Markelov lying on the sidewalk, blood pooled by his
head, and these words of defiance:
"The killers have no fear. Because they know that they will never be
punished. But the victims also have no fear. Because when you defend
another person, you stop being frightened."