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Russia investigating officials in Politkovskaya killing


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Tuesday January 23, 2007


Moscow (dpa) - The head of a US-based journalists' lobbying group
said Tuesday that Russia had opened a criminal investigation into
police officials in the October killing of Moscow journalist Anna
Politkovskaya - leading to a wave of denials from Russian officials.
Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect
Journalists, said the Russian Prosecutor General's Office is
investigating "several" officials in the wartorn republic of
Chechnya.

Politkovskaya, he said, was due to publish an article revealing
the officials' alleged connections to torture in the republic, scene
of two wars in the last 10 years, when she was murdered.

"We are heartened to hear of any information that could lead to
justice in this crime," Simon said at a press conference called to
release the results of the committee's delegation in Russia. He added
the case was one of several versions prosecutors were looking into.

Simon said the CPJ's four-person delegation had received its
information during a meeting with Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman
Boris Malakhov on Monday.

The ministry, however, shot down Simon's announcement.

"The CPJ's assertion absolutely does not correspond to reality," a
ministry statement said. It added prosecutors were looking at "a
few" versions of the murder and that Chechen investigators were
examining leads from Politkovskaya's final article, which was printed
posthumously.

Malakhov could not be reached.

Little official information about the investigation has been
released. Media reports in late October that policemen from central
Russia were suspected in the killing have since faded into obscurity.

Politkovskaya - who wrote critical, investigative pieces
about Chechnya and the Kremlin for Novaya Gazeta - was gunned down
October 7 in the elavator of her central Moscow apartment building.
The slaying bore all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

According to the CPJ, Russia is the world's third-most dangerous
country for journalists, trailing only Iraq and Algeria. Thirteen
journalists have been killed in contract-style hits in the last six
years, with not a single case solved.

The CPJ's trip itself came as a television anchor was killed in
the Pacific city of Vladivostok over the weekend, and as a female
newspaper reporter was badly beaten Monday, also in the eastern
Russian city.

The delegation, according to CPJ board chairman and Wall Street
Journal managing editor Paul Steiger, had made "a step forward" in
speaking for the first time with authorities.

A meeting planned with Kremlin deputy spokesman Dmitry Peskov was
cancelled at the last minute, however. Peskov, the group said, left
open the possibility of meeting in the near future in Washington.

Some Russian activists, however, more directly impugned the
Kremlin for the predominance of violence against journalists in
Russia.

"The death of journalists is always a tragedy," Oleg Panfilov,
director of Moscow's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations,
said. "But what also bothers us is the atmosphere of fear authorities
here have created."

Panfilov added that over 50 criminal cases were opened against
journalists every year in Russia, with reporters landing in court for
parodies and jokes about officials as well as for material they never
published. Consequently, reporters are less willing to write about
many subjects.

President Vladimir Putin, he noted, first acknowledged
Politkovskaya's murder only three days after it had happened. In
contrast, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately
addressed his nation Saturday after the killing of a prominent
ethnically Armenian journalist.

Regarding Politkovskaya and the possibility authorities do not
want to find her killers, Steiger, of the Wall Street Journal, added
that "many sources" had told him the investigation was continuing
apace.

But, he added, journalists themselves must demand justice and
their own safety. "That's the only way to get government
protection," he added. "To say all benefit from a free press."

© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency