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Vigil Held in Washington for Slain Russian Journalist


One of Russia's most prominent journalists, Anna Politkovskaya, was found murdered on October 7 in an elevator in her apartment building after being shot in the head. Human-rights defenders gathered to remember her on Monday while observing a Russian folk belief that on the ninth day after someone's death the soul leaves the body and angels guide it to its next destination.

In remembrance of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, about 100 mourners lit thin, white candles late Monday outside the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington.

Several democracy, human-rights and journalism organizations organized the peaceful vigil. Freedom House official Paula Schriefer says her group wants to remember the journalist who was committed to exposing alleged Russian atrocities in Chechnya and to stress what her murder means for the world.

"We want people to know more broadly about the importance of press freedom throughout the world and highlight declines there, not only in Russia, but obviously in other parts of the world as well," she said.

Reporters Without Borders official Elsa Vidal says 21 journalists have been killed in Russia since President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000. There has been one conviction.

"What we can say is that Russia is not a safe country for journalists. Russia has proved unable to protect its journalists," noted Vidal.

Vidal says it is difficult to say who is ultimately responsible for the murders. But Committee to Protect Journalists official Nina Ognianova questions the government's response to the deaths.

"Many of these cases, the government announces very early in the case that these crimes are not connected to the professional activity of the reporter," noted Ognianova. "They are most probably just an act of robbery or street murder or like a common crime. And the investigators and prosecutors are not doing enough to look at the professional motives."

Murders like Politkovskaya's, for the most part, occur at the reporters' homes and offices, far away from the battlefield. Organizations like Vidal's Reporters Without Borders say they do not overlook any professional motives.

"Most of the ones that have been killed were most of the time speaking about connections between businessmen and political people," added Vidal. "They were speaking about corruption. They were speaking about violence. They were speaking about civil rights not being protected."

A journalism colleague of Politkovskaya, Dimitri Klimenko, said the Russian government's hostile attitude toward journalists was in part to blame for the deaths.

"It was a societal hit. That they had established the environment and the circumstance by which these journalists who spoke out for truth could be murdered," said Klimenko.

The Russian Embassy had no response to those gathered outside. But organizers of Monday's event in Washington said similar gatherings abroad met different responses, such as one in Nazran in the Russian republic of Ingushetia.

"Unfortunately, the event in Nazran was violently broken up by police. Eight people were detained," said the spokeswomen for the event. "One person is being hospitalized. And to the best of our knowledge, they are still in detention. And we do not know under what charges they are being held."

President Putin has promised an investigation into Politkovskaya's murder.

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