INTERVIEW-Russian newspaper fights on for fallen comrades

Tue Mar 10, 2009 10:45am EDT

Related Topics

* Colleagues of Anna Politkovskaya say will hunt her killers

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By Christian Lowe

MOSCOW, March 10 (Reuters) - Four reporters on the Russian opposition newspaper where journalist Yulia Latynina works have been murdered and most of their killers have gone unpunished, but she refuses to be silenced.

In the most high-profile killing, Latynina's former colleague on Novaya Gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot dead three years ago and last month a court acquitted the only men charged over her murder.

Latynina responded to the court's decision by going on the offensive, saying she believed the three suspected accomplices were guilty and naming two more men from Russia's violent Chechnya region who she alleged organised Politkovskaya's murder.

"Attack is a form of defence," Latynina, 42, who since Politkovskaya's death has become one of Russia's most visible and outspoken journalists, told Reuters in an interview.

"We must show that you cannot kill the journalists of Novaya Gazeta and go unpunished," she said. "If you touch Novaya Gazeta, we won't leave you alone."

Part-owned by former Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Gorbachev, the newspaper has become a symbol of the dangers journalists face if they take on powerful interests.

The first victim, reporter Igor Domnikov, died in 2000 after he was beaten over the head with a metal object. Deputy editor Yuri Shchekochikhin died of suspected poisoning in 2003. Politkovskaya was the third victim and the fourth was trainee reporter Anastasia Baburova, shot dead in January.

Five men were convicted two years ago of murdering Domnikov, but the alleged mastermind has never been put on trial and there have been no convictions in the other cases.

Latynina dismissed suggestions from some opposition figures -- repeatedly denied by officials -- that the Kremlin orders the murder of inconvenient journalists.

"The Russian state, the Kremlin, absolutely for sure does not want another Anna Politkovskaya," she said in a Moscow apartment as her mother talked on the telephone in the next room.



DANGEROUS TERRITORY

But if the Kremlin is not to blame, the people who are guilty either hold official posts or have ties to officialdom --- connections that could be exposed if a thorough investigation was allowed into the killings, said Latynina.

In the Politkovskaya case, she said prosecutors had tried to solve the case and were ordered to back off when the trail led to someone "quite high up in the ruling hierarchy."

Russian leaders have said they are determined to get to the bottom of Politkovskaya's murder. That commitment was repeated by the most senior investigator after last month's acquittal.

Latynina, who is also a widely-read novelist and hosts a talk show on one of the few radio stations that airs criticism of the Kremlin, scoffed at that.

"I think the authorities are full of resolve not to bring this case to a conclusion and not to find the person who ordered this," she said.

Novaya Gazeta has instead launched its own investigations, naming the organised crime groups it believes were involved in the killings, the officials it suspects colluded with them and even the restaurants where it alleges the crimes were planned.

Latynina acknowledged she and her colleagues were on dangerous territory -- especially when they followed the trail from Politkovskaya's murder into the world of organised crime in Chechnya, where murder is a favoured method for settling disputes.

She declined to talk about her own security arrangements. But she was fatalistic about the dangers. "You know, we understand that in Russia in winter it snows. We understand that ... (these) are serious people. What can we do?" (Editing by Richard Balmforth)



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