IMAGE: Tribute to Anna Politkovskaya
Lehtikuva  /  Reuters
Candles are placed in memory of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya outside the Russian Embassy in Helsinki on Sunday.
updated 10/10/2006 1:08:22 PM ET 2006-10-10T17:08:22

Family, friends and admirers paid their final respects Tuesday at the funeral of a murdered investigative reporter who had criticized President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s conduct in Chechnya.

Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was fatally shot in her apartment building Saturday in an apparent contract killing. Her death threw a new spotlight on the risks faced by journalists who criticize the Russian authorities and dig deep to expose abuses.

In his first public comments about the slaying, Putin described the attack as a “disgustingly cruel crime which must not go unpunished, whoever committed it, and whatever motive they were pursuing.”

At the same time, however, he questioned the power of her work, saying she was known in human rights circles and in the West but “the level of her influence on political life in Russia was very minor.”

At home and abroad, the slaying has drawn widespread concern about media freedom in Russia and calls for authorities to find and punish her murderers. Prosecutors have said she was probably killed because of her journalistic work, but there are no immediate leads.

‘An endlessly honest reporter’
More than 1,000 mourners filed past an open casket where Politkovskaya lay in a funeral hall on the outskirts of Moscow, her forehead covered with a white ribbon according to Russian Orthodox tradition. They placed flowers, mostly roses and carnations, around the coffin, while others in the crowd held thin yellow prayer candles. Many wept.

“She was an endlessly honest reporter ... her every fact was based on an investigation. She was also a mediator, a rights activist. She was trusted, she was unique,” Alexei Venediktov, editor in chief of Ekho Moskvy radio, told The Associated Press.

No high-ranking Kremlin or government official made an appearance at the ceremony, which was attended by U.S. Ambassador William Burns.

“I hope that this tragic death will lead to greater respect for freedom of speech, for the importance of speaking the truth and achieving fairness and truth,” Burns told the mourners.

Putin made a statement about Politkovskaya’s murder only three days later, in a conversation with President Bush, the Kremlin press service said, but he has made no address on the crime to the Russian people.

“We have heard President Chirac. We have heard President Bush. We have heard British Prime Minister Tony Blair,” Venediktov said, referring to world leaders who have expressed outrage over Politkovskaya’s killing “But all we’ve heard (from Putin) was a demand to conduct an investigation.”

Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, appearing together in Dresden, Germany, spoke about Politkovskaya’s slaying, and she had stressed the necessity of a free press in democratic societies.

“It was again made clear by the Russian president that everything will be done to clear up this murder,” she said. “I think this is very important and a necessary signal to make clear that the freedom of those who report and write is a very important attribute of countries in which democracy develops.”

Putin had told President Bush in a phone conversation that authorities would do everything necessary to solve the case, the Kremlin said Monday.

Top prosecutor takes charge of probe
Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika has taken personal charge of the investigation, but Politkovskaya’s colleagues have expressed doubts her slaying will be solved. Her newspaper has pledged to conduct an independent investigation and offered a $930,000 reward for information that would help solve the crime.

A fierce critic of the wars in Chechnya, Politkovskaya reported on abuses by forces of the Russian military and Moscow-backed government. Colleagues said she had been working on a story about torture and abductions in Chechnya, abuses she blamed on Moscow-backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

The newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya had worked, said Sunday that the killing was either revenge by Kadyrov or an attempt to discredit him. In a newspaper interview published Monday, Kadyrov denied any link to Chechnya in the killing.

Politkovskaya’s colleagues described her as a brave reporter and a courageous woman who would venture into war-shattered Chechen villages not just to conduct investigations for her stories but also to help ordinary people. At times she was in such danger that people tried to protect her by taking her from village to village in a car trunk, said her closest collaborator at the paper, Vyacheslav Izmailov.

“Anya lived and died a hero,” said veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva. “She couldn’t bear seeing how people suffer, how they’re in trouble, and that’s why she rushed to their help as if she were the most powerful person in the world, not waiting for other help to arrive.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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