Murder of Russian journalist leads to self-censorship fear

National newspaper Moscow correspondents have warned of reporting restrictions in Chechnya and the fear of self-censorship following the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Politkovskaya, known for her fearless reporting from Chechnya, was shot dead on Saturday. Her body was found inside a lift in her apartment building.

The Guardian's Moscow correspondent, Tom Parfitt, said: "My fear is that almost unconsciously one starts to self-censor what one does, because in the back of one's head is the idea that ‘Oh maybe I shouldn't write that potentially damaging or critical thing about prime minister Kadyrov in Chechnya, because I might get some comeback from it.'"

He added: "I think there's a feeling that Western journalists are niggling away and pointing fingers at it all the time, ‘let them get on with it, it doesn't really harm us', but when a Russian reporter is punting out a lot of very critical work about what a mess things are in Chechnya or how authoritarian Putin is, then it's much more damaging."

The International Federation of Journalists described the murder as a "shocking outrage that will stun journalists across the world".

The IFJ said the killing reflected a state of lawlessness that is threatening to overwhelm Russian journalism. It called on the government of president Vladimir Putin to act immediately to bring the killers to justice.

The Independent's Moscow correspondent, Andrew Osborn, said: "I must say she was in a class of her own. There wasn't really anyone else taking the kind of risks she was taking. There's no question that, with her death, we're not going to see the same kind of stories as often as we were.

"Every week or two she was putting out a kind of pretty hard-hitting investigative story about Chechnya. There can't have been anyone as active as her."

Discussing the difficulty of reporting on Chechnya, Osborn said: "Western journalists in particular are subject to reporting restrictions. You can only go there if you're accompanied by a minder from the Foreign Ministry, and you need to get special accreditation.

"If you get to Chechnya, which is classed as a bed of counter-terrorist activity, you need a separate press card, and that is quite difficult to get and runs out every three months. The only way to go down there with one or two exceptions is on official trips with Russian authority."

Osborn added: "It's very underreported and it's not an easy part of the world to report on. Anyone who's based in Moscow is aware that in a way you're treading a fine line, because you don't want to lose your right to work in Russia. It's become a no-go zone for reporters [and] it is a very difficult area of the world to cover."

In a 2001 interview with Press Gazette, Politovskaya recounted witnessing harrowing atrocities committed against Chechnyans by Russian troops.

She said she was captured, held for several days and subjected to "disgusting" and "utterly obscene" treatment. She was told she was going to be shot, and was only saved when a mortar exploded next to her.

Politkovskaya said that on one occasion, a Russian general told her: "I would like to shoot you for what you've written. You're more dangerous for us than an atomic bomb." Read the full 2001 interview at: www.tinyurl.com/zecvk

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