By ANDRAS GAL
September 27, 2007
The National Endowment for Democracy honored three international journalists and an organization with the 2007 Democracy Award. One of the awardees is Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was killed in Moscow just a year ago. A reporter at Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya was an outspoken human rights activist and a strong critic of the Russian government’s policies towards Chechnya. Her colleague, Elene Milashina, received the award last week at a Capitol Hill reception, on Politkovskaya’s behalf.
Milashina has also extensively covered the war in Chechnya focusing on the investigations of the Beslan tragedy, in which a Chechen separatist group put a Russian school under siege and killed and wounded hundreds of schoolchildren.
At the National Press Club, Milashina spoke about her deceased colleague.
“She had been in danger long before the murder. In fact, this was the third attempt to kill her. She and the people around her knew that she was in danger, and any time they said goodbye it was as if they were seeing each other for the last time. We were the only paper that could write the real thing about Chechnya and its president Kadyrov.”
An investigative reporter digging into the human rights abuses of the Russian government in Chechnya, Politkovskaya was killed on October 7, 2006, on President Putin’s birthday.
“I doubt that Putin ordered the murder,” Milashina said, “but the way he was speaking about it shows that he knew who was behind it. I cannot tell you who is behind her murder but I can tell you that we know him. It is a huge group of people behind her murder, including some Chechens, the (Russian) Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Russian Security Service (the former KGB)”
As it appears, she may not have been killed because of the story itself, said Milashina.
“She wasn’t murdered for what she was writing but for how she was writing. She was the only journalist writing about Kadyrov, who dared to call him a bastard.”
A former Chechen warlord fighting against Russia, Ramzan Kadyrov switched to Moscow’s side and now is entrusted by the Kremlin with Chechnya‘s stabilization. The 30-year-old new Chechen president has been widely accused by human rights groups of anti-democratic conduct, violence and torture. ”He is a bastard. He doesn’t have any worries and can easily kill people. And that’s what Anna was writing about,” Milashina said. “It is not easy at all to work as an independent journalist in Russia anymore. It is easy to do propaganda.”
Created in 1983, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a private, nonprofit organization, presented its annual Democracy Award to an organization and three individuals who have “bravely contributed to increasing and preserving press freedom and independent media.”
Other awardees were Thai journalist Kavi Chongkittavorn, Egyptian activist and publisher Hisham Kassem, and Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) – Venezuela, a press freedom monitoring group.
Upon receiving the award yesterday, honored journalists spent an hour meeting with President Bush.
NED Director of Public Affairs Jane Riley Jacobsen hopes that the award will have an effect on journalism in the countries whose journalists are awarded.
“Just giving them that kind of high-profile exposure tells people that world leaders like the U.S. President do care about people who are risking their lives to provide independent sources of news,” she said.
Jacobsen added that the award is also an expression of solidarity.
“It is supposed to make people feel that they are not alone and it wants to make them feel connected and supported,” she said.