A Russian Journalist's Final Story

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Anna Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old Russian journalist, was murdered last week while reporting on Chechnya. This week, her newspaper published her still-unfinished last report.


You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. We were on the air last week when the death of Anna Politkovskaya was reported. The Russian journalist was shot in the head, her body left in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. She was 48 and had two children.

Anna Politkovskaya was born in New York, the child of Soviet diplomats, a favored child in the old Soviet system, but also exposed to the world in New York and dissident ideas. She became a journalist, not a propagandist as in the days of Izvestia and Pravda, but a hard-digging investigative journalist of the kind not well known in Russia.

In a time when most Russian news organizations and, for that matter, Western ones have scaled back on reporting the seven-year-old Russian war in Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya made more than 50 trips there. She was equally hard on warlords, religious extremists, brutal Russian soldiers and corrupt Chechen leaders. She was poisoned once but survived, and once captured by Russian special forces who threatened to kill her. She talked them out of it.

Anna Politkovskaya was working on a story at the time she was killed. She'd even talked about it on Radio Liberty. This is her last dispatch, and as you hear her words, you inevitably wonder if she was killed for them. The article was titled The Antiterrorist Politics of Torture in the North Caucuses.

Unidentified Reader: Every day I have dozens of folders on my desk. These are copies of documents from the criminal cases of people who are either imprisoned or at least under investigation for terrorism.

Why do I put the word terrorism in quotes? Because the vast majority of these people have been appointed to be terrorists, and by the beginning of this year, this practice of appointing people to be terrorists had not merely taken the place of the real battle against terrorism, but it had begun to produce more people who want to take revenge, i.e., potential terrorists.

When prosecutors and judges work not for the sake of the law, not for the sake of seeing guilty people punished, but rather to fulfill some political order and give progress reports to the Kremlin, then criminal cases get cooked up like blinis.

Here's what the mothers of a group of Chechen convicts wrote to me. In essence, these correctional colonies have become concentration camps for Chechen convicts. They are subject to discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity. They're not allowed out of solitary confinement. The majority, almost all, have been convicted in fabricated cases without any proof. They're held in cruel conditions subject to humiliation of their human dignity, and they develop hatred for everything. This is an entire army that will return to us with warped lives and warped notions.

SIMON: From the last dispatch of Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered last weekend at the age of 48. This is NPR News.

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