February 20, 2009
The acquittals in the Anna Politkovskaya murder case highlight a culture of impunity that must be brought to an end
Tanya Lokshina, Deputy Director of the Moscow office of HRW

The trial of three men charged in connection with the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is over. The defendants were all acquitted by the jury. Even if one or all of the accused had been found guilty, neither the hit man nor those behind the killing were in the courtroom in the first place. Those on trial were charged with being accessories to the murder.

Anna Politkovskaya was the most prominent among the few Russian journalists who dared write the truth about the second Chechen war. She travelled to the region for so many years, wrote about such burning issues, took such tremendous risks, that after a while many of us thought that she had managed to transcend danger. It seemed inconceivable that she could be simply, cynically, killed. After all, Russia could not possibly afford such an outrageous scandal.

Apparently, it could. Anna was shot dead at the entrance of her own apartment building. Her death left a gaping hole that cannot be filled.

The murder of Politkovskaya on 7 October 2006 made headlines in Russia and around the world. Russia's Prosecutor General took control over the investigation. Politkovskaya's family, friends and colleagues, and the public at large, were reassured time and again that justice would be done. Today, however, those responsible for the killing are still at large, and the authorities have sent a very clear signal to Russian civil society: those who dare criticise the government can be killed, with their killers practically guaranteed impunity.

It is symbolic that the end of the trial on Politkovskaya's murder fell on 19 February 2009 - precisely one month after the brazen killing of a prominent human rights lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, and another Novaya Gazeta journalist, Anastasiya Baburova. The message to their murderers - and potential perpetrators of other such killings - is no less clear: you can do it and get away with it.

As a tribute to those who have been killed we must not stop trying to ensure that the message is wrong.

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