For Anna

Between 2006 and 2009, there were three closely linked assassinations that occurred in Russia. The common thread between them is Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper and it's journalists' investigations into human rights abuses in Chechnya. Some violations were investigated by Anna Politkovskaya, specifically the mass poisoning of Chechyn schoolchildren with an unknown substance, and the torture and detainment of Chechen people from the village of Tovzeni. She herself was detained, beaten, poisoned, and assassinated in October 2006 for her exposure of the gross misconduct and atrocities committed by the Russian military in Chechnya.

Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer with ties to Novaya Gazeta who further investigated the charges brought by Politkovskaya's reporting was shot in broad daylight in January 2009, before the trial for Anna's killers had ended. Another journalist and activist, Anastasia Baburova, who was with Markelov at the time of the shooting, was killed trying to protect Markelov. One of Anna's key informants, and close friends, Natalya Estemirova was murdered after being abducted from her home in July 2009. Natalya was heavily involved in revealing Russian punitive practices used in Chechnya and Ingushetia, often travelling to hospitals to film child victims of war.

There have been so many journalists killed in Russia, it warrants a wiki entry. Death threats have been issued to writers, activists and hate crimes experts such as Galina Kozhevnikova who received a message suggesting that she could "join Markelov".We live in a world so inundated with information that we have little concept of what it takes to bring the truth to us - that those who go the deepest behind the veils of power around often pay with their lives. Why don't we have any reverence for the men and women who provide us with the evidence of injustice, corruption, collusion, and genocide? We constantly decorate and voice our support for soldiers, fire-fighters or police for their bravery in the line of duty, yet the personal danger faced by journalists across the world who knowingly risk themselves is almost never appreciated outside of their own circles. Without their bravery, those who hold power, wealth and influence will gladly continue to gut whatever system they can profit from, and kill with impunity. Sometimes those are the same leaders who smile broadly and shake hands at G8 and G20 Summits, while they work behind the scenes to discredit, obscure and erase true journalism through propaganda, threats, torture, and murder.

Russia has managed to keep much of these atrocities removed from most major media outlets, and most of us would need to research the Second Chechen War and it's current ongoing consequences to get a sense of the context that led to these deaths. I only discovered the stories of Anna, Anastasia, Natalya, and Stanislav through a series of links related to Alexander Litvinenko. As I followed the web of Wikientries I kept questioning why their names were not prominent in our world's history. Shouldn't they not hold the same historical significance as Daniel Ellsberg, or Edward R. Murrow? For the majority of the public it seems that the links between their murders, the methods by which they were killed, and the weak attempts to prosecute their killers, are somehow mentally filed away under 'the kind of things that happen in Russia'.

Of course it should be completely the opposite, their work, legacy and circumstance of their deaths make it clear that freedom of any press can't be taken for granted, and that we have been neglecting and disregarding our Fourth Estate, the last line of defense in the pursuit of truth. Do not allow yourself to feel certain that this kind of murder could never occur in Australia, Canada, the United States or the U.K. These four, and so many others, have more than earned their place as heroes in history, they died to tell these stories - remember them. Unlike the vast majority of us, who cower safe in our homes and offices, they continued to work on our behalf knowing they might be marked for death. They demand our respect, not just for their sacrifice, but for their devotion and unbelievable strength of character.

As we ensure they are not forgotten, let us also pledge to acknowledge and support asylum and other protections for journalists across the world who continue their work. One of those is Lana Estimirova, the daughter of Natalya Estimirova, who also knew Anna Politkovskaya and aspired to be like her and her mother:

When I was about 12 I won an essay competition entitled: “My future profession”. I wrote that it made me realise the importance of telling the truth, even when others were doing everything to cover it up.

I wrote: “A journalist must be clever, educated, brave, rebellious; he or she should have a wide imagination and a good sense of humour, be a bit cynical and sometimes a little bit cunning.” Anybody who knew Anna would agree she possessed these qualities.

Ten years later, I would add that what really makes a great journalist is compassion. It was Anna’s driving force, her superpower. Compassion made her spend hours in the freezing cold, delivering water for hostages in Dubrovka. Compassion was the reason Anna jumped on the first plane to
Beslan to report on the deadly school siege, only to be poisoned on the flight.

She banged on doors, rowed with corrupt politicians, shouted at heartless army men. She was fierce, stubborn and strong. She was unstoppable until the end.

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