Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

My Brave Friend Anna Just Would Not Be Silenced; as Londoners Prepare to Hold a Vigil for the Assassinated Russian Campaigner Anna Politkovskaya, One Woman Who Came to Know Her in the Hotbed of Moscow's Gangster Politics Pays Her Own Tribute

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

My Brave Friend Anna Just Would Not Be Silenced; as Londoners Prepare to Hold a Vigil for the Assassinated Russian Campaigner Anna Politkovskaya, One Woman Who Came to Know Her in the Hotbed of Moscow's Gangster Politics Pays Her Own Tribute

Article excerpt

Byline: VANORA BENNETT

I DIDN'T want to believe she'd be murdered. Anna Politkovskaya's tall, thin vehemence, her throaty, vibrant voice, her dangerous truth-telling, and the kooky smile that lit up her often sad face as she drove home a particularly caustic point, all made her death seem an impossibility.

This greying, 48-year-old woman with her air of a strict but fair headmistress, packed at least 36 hours into every 24. She always had time to take on more phone calls and more causes; she made time for purely personal troubles, like my friend who was being unfairly squeezed out of an aid-agency job; she kept in touch with the Chechen refugees whom she'd helped get out to Scandanavia and beyond. To me, she seemed simply too busy to die.

However, her friends knew, deep down, that a violent death was always on the cards for Russia's bravest investigative journalist. By the time I got to know her, a couple of years ago, having followed her rise from independent journalist to dissident when I was based in Moscow, Anna had already survived multiple death threats, and her refusal quietly to toe the line kept attracting more.

In fact, ever since this mother of two was sent to Chechnya, not because she was a war correspondent but precisely because she was "just a civilian" who had been writing about social problems, her life was in danger. She knew this but the breathtaking horror she uncovered gave her a mission so important that she even separated from her husband and ignored her son's pleas to stop her work.

So it was shocking, but not surprising, to discover she had been assassinated in the lift outside her Moscow flat at the weekend.

It was also shocking, but not surprising, to discover that President Vladimir Putin had not commented on her headlinegrabbing murder at his Security Council meeting yesterday. For Anna's had been the voice that most compellingly articulated the worry felt by many in Russia today that her country, under Putin, was again falling under the influence of authoritarians and secret policemen - and that freedom of conscience, speech and action were again under threat from state-sponsored bullies and killers.

However much else is going on in the world today - whether in North Korea or Iraq - the silencing of a voice so commonsensical and so courageous should make the news.

What Anna did and said made her more than a natural focus for the liberal literati of the global village. Her work mattered worldwide because it was true democracy in action: because, unlike so many politicians in her own country and elsewhere, she genuinely put her life at risk to speak for the little people whose interests are all too often ignored.

The main targets of Politkovskaya's searing exposes in the daily Novaya Gazeta were the authoritarians who run Putin's Russia - in particular its army - and those who run the conflict zone of Chechnya in the Russian south.

She took issue with the swaggering, macho, murderous pro-Moscow leaders of today's Chechnya, under Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov (she campaigned against Putin's man in Chechnya being named to run the region, interviewing people who'd been interrogated by him and publishing reports that he was a sadistic torturer who enjoyed stripping the skin off his victims' backs).

The article she had been about to publish yesterday was about torture and kidnappings perpetrated by Kadyrov's forces against their political opponents. It died with her, though Novaya Gazeta's deputy editor, Andrei Lipsky, says her colleagues are trying to piece together the fragments from her notes.

However, Politkovskaya had no romantic sympathies with the freedom fighters either. Her targets also included the swaggering, macho, murderous anti-Moscow separatists led by Shamil Basayev, now dead, whose extremism plunged Chechnya into a second war against Putin's forces in 1999, bringing disaster to hundreds of thousands of Chechens. …

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