Reporters worldwide battle for freedom

By Furrah Qureshi

Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was due to publish an article detailing the torture and kidnappings in Chechnya based on witness accounts and photographs of tortured bodies that she had collected. But mere days before her article was supposed to see print, she was gunned down in her Moscow apartment. This was in October 2006. And as of today, nine people have been charged as co-conspirators in her murder, and two of the accused were released May 12 on the condition that they remain in the country. Rustam Makhmudov is the alleged gunman.

The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote that Politkovskaya “was at least the 43rd journalist killed for her work in Russia since 1993.” The CJP has ranked Russia as the No. 3 most deadly country for journalists. According to data from the International Organization of Reporters Without Borders, 21 journalists were murdered in Russia between 2000 and 2007 alone. Russia, particularly under Vladamir Putin’s rule, has a long record in a short history of curtailing not only the civil liberties of its journalists, but the lives of these journalists as well.

The journalistic community has little hope of finding justice for Politkovskaya; the Russian government is notorious for hindering investigatory efforts and acquitting alleged murderers in the wake of overwhelming evidence. Dmitry Kholodov, another Russian reporter who investigated military corruption, was killed in October 1994 when a briefcase he had picked up at a train station blew up in his office. Colleagues said he had been told it contained evidence. In this case, the six men accused in the killing were acquitted, and the Russian Supreme Court upheld the rulings in June 2005.

Political think-tanks always ponder the unanswerable debate of public safety vs. civil liberties – which one is more important? I believe Anna Politkovskaya would argue that they are one in the same in Russia. Politkovskaya had a magnanimous record of human rights activism and has published article upon article promulgating the Russian abuse of Chechnyans and criticizing the Russian military; she was even a witness in a criminal case that concerned the kidnapping and torture of two civilians.

Politkovskaya was a true journalist, marked by her ability to preserve the truth despite the burden of fear and death threats. Her life, unfairly short, and her death, painfully gruesome, serve as a testament to the necessity of the freedom of speech. The very injustices that Politkovskaya exposed in her articles were the same ones that led to her death.

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    In her book, “Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy,” Politkovskaya predicted that, “We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance.” She was so insightful because she realized that governments, across the globe, use “public safety” and censorship as a guise to curtail basic human rights.

    Every writer has the right to write, but exercising it appears to be fatal. In April of this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that between 1998 and 2007, 13 countries accounted for at least 199 unsolved murders of journalists.

    The world becomes eminently more macabre as countries realize traditional censorship can no longer function successfully because many alternative media sources can be found openly and for free via the internet. Countries are finding new ways to shut up their journalists, and unfortunately, they’re shutting them up for good.

    This is not a “Russian” issue, or a “third-world” issue. This is a global issue. While countries like Algeria, Russia and Pakistan flagrantly murder journalists, more “sophisticated” countries find more “sophisticated” ways to silence their journalists, the U.S. using mechanisms like “libel.”

    Very recently, journalists, activists and politicians in the U.S. were all afraid to oppose the Iraq war at the time of its inception for fear of being dubbed as “anti-patriotic.” And at the beginning of the war, disagreement with its organization was vilified as “not supporting the troops.”

    History will examine those early years of our new millennium as a time in American journalism that was not far from the days of the Red Scare and Joseph McCarthy. Would the Iraq War have been so long, expensive or unpopular if people had spoken up? Furthermore, if people had spoken up, would the war have been at all? So you see, people only fear their government for so long; eventually, so many people disagree that you can no longer silence them. But these masses can only see the truth if someone shows it to them.

    So I write here, a young, American, female, future-journalist, paying tribute to a woman that took on the colossal task of never shutting up. Thank you, Anna Politkovskaya.