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Dispatches: In Russia, Not Just ‘Hit Men’ Should Face Trial

The five hit men convicted for killing one of Russia’s most outspoken investigative journalists, Anna Politkovskaya, were sentenced today. Two were given a life sentence and three others received prison terms ranging from 12 to 20 years. Despite the verdicts, I am not convinced that justice has been done.

Anna was shot in the elevator of her apartment building on October 7, 2006. Her murder had all the bearings of a contract killing. In any contract killing, what matters perhaps even more than punishing the hit men is identifying and prosecuting the contractor. I am glad that the deputy head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, the government agency responsible for criminal investigations, has said publicly that the committee is taking “comprehensive measures” to identify who ordered Anna’s murder. But I can’t help wonder what kind of measures towards that end it’s been taking during the past eight years.

It is impossible to ignore the notion that Anna was murdered in retribution for her investigative work. I hope that, if necessary, the Investigative Committee won’t shy away from naming individuals responsible, even if they are in power or closely connected to those who are.

Anna reported on some of the most serious abuses of her time. In the weeks before her murder she was still working on an article for Novaya Gazeta about torture in Chechnya where, since 1999, she had done extensive reporting on human rights abuses. Anna’s articles often contained searing criticism of the Kremlin-appointed Chechen leadership. Much of Anna’s work was based on information provided by Chechnen human rights defender Natalya Estemirova, and the two were good friends. Next month will mark the five-year anniversary of Natalya’s kidnapping and murder. So far, the authorities have claimed, incredibly, that Chechen insurgents were responsible for the crime. The authorities seem to have disregarded the threats she and others had received before her killing that pointed to possible official involvement in or acquiescence to her murder.

I hope that the Investigative Committee is prepared to look in some very awkward places for the people who ordered the killings of these courageous women. Until they are found and prosecuted, justice will not be done. 

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