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Muratov and Novaya Gazeta: Russia's Independent Media Stalwarts

Russia's top independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta chief editor and the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov meets with reporters outside the newspaper's office in Moscow on Oct. 8, 2021.

Newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, is a bastion of independent media in Russia with a commitment to free speech that has cost some of its journalists their lives.

Muratov, who was among a group of journalists who founded Novaya Gazeta in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union, said after the Nobel announcement that it really belonged to all the newspaper's journalists.

"I can't take credit for this. This is Novaya Gazeta's," Muratov, 59, told Russian news agency TASS, saying the award was for "those who died defending people's right to freedom of speech."

The award comes with independent media under increasing pressure in Russia. Several outlets were forced to close this year and some prominent journalists fled the country.

It also came just a day after Novaya Gazeta marked the 15th anniversary of the killing of its best-known journalist, Anna Politkovskaya.

Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin's wars in Chechnya, was shot dead on October 7, 2006, in the entrance hall of her apartment building in central Moscow.

She was one of six Novaya Gazeta journalists and contributors killed in connection with their work since the early 2000s whose black-and-white portraits now hang together in the newspaper's office.

In an interview with AFP in March, Muratov said the newspaper's reporters knew their work put their lives at risk, but that unlike some other Kremlin critics they would not go into exile.

"This newspaper is dangerous for people's lives," Muratov said. "We are not going anywhere. We will live and work in Russia."

Support from Gorbachev

Gray-bearded and round-faced, Muratov has been one of Russia's most prominent independent journalists for decades.

He and Novaya Gazeta's other founders were inspired by the newfound freedoms that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A key early supporter was former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who donated part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize money to buy the new publication its first computers — one of them still on display in their office.

The heady optimism of those early days is long gone. In the years since Putin came to power in 1999, critical voices have been increasingly pushed to the sidelines in Russia.

Still, the Kremlin congratulated Muratov on the award, with Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov describing him as "talented" and "courageous."

"He is committed to his ideals," Peskov said.

Novaya Gazeta has become one of the few remaining independent voices in a bleak media landscape.

Kremlin critics say authorities are waging a campaign against independent and critical media, with many branded foreign agents and others forced to shut down.

Investigative journalism

Novaya Gazeta focuses on deep-dive investigative reports into corruption and rights abuses, and its journalists have long faced intimidation and violence.

Politkovskaya was especially known for her reporting on abuses in Chechnya and was working on a report into torture in the volatile southern region when she was killed.

In another high-profile incident in 2009, human rights activist and contributor Natalia Estemirova, a friend of Politkovskaya's, was kidnapped in Chechnya and later found dead in neighboring Inghushetia.

In 2018, a funeral wreath and a severed ram's head were delivered to Novaya Gazeta's offices with a note addressed to one its reporters who covered the shadowy Wagner mercenary group operating in the Middle East and Africa.

The investigations had shed light on Wagner's operations abroad and on its alleged ties to a Kremlin-linked businessman, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Earlier this year, the paper was again targeted in what editors said was an apparent chemical attack.

Despite the heavy price, the newspaper has refused to shy away from tough investigations, and it was one of the publications that dug through the trove of documents leaked in the Panama Papers scandal, exposing offshore wealth of Russian officials.

The paper, published three times per week, has a print circulation of 81,000 and its website had 17 million views last month.

Muratov was born in the southwestern city of Kuybyshev, now called Samara, on October 30, 1961.

He worked early in his career for the populist daily Komsomolskaya Pravda but left with several of his colleagues who were not happy with its editorial policies. Together they founded Novaya Gazeta and Muratov has served several times as its editor-in-chief since 1995.