Politkovskaya's Legacy of Courage Lives On

Osman Boliyev met Anna Politkovskaya just twice, but he credits the late investigative journalist with saving his life.

In February of this year, Politkovskaya wrote an article about Boliyev, a Dagestani human rights activist. She described how police had tortured him and how prosecutors had fabricated the case against him.

Boliyev believes the publicity generated by the article influenced public opinion and helped secure his release.

Politkovskaya, an internationally recognized journalist who wrote impassioned articles about human rights abuses for Novaya Gazeta newspaper, was murdered Oct. 7 in the elevator of her apartment building. Prosecutors and Novaya Gazeta believe the killing resulted from Politkovskaya's professional activities.

"By saving my life, Anna Politkovskaya gave up her own," Boliyev said. "Her death puts us one step closer to a totalitarian regime, to true dictatorship."

Boliyev, the head of Romashka, a human rights organization in Dagestan, was detained on a weapons possession charge in November 2005, after he had helped two Dagestani families file lawsuits with the European Court of Human Rights. One family had lost a member to kidnapping, the other to murder.

Boliyev was acquitted in February, and the case against him was found to have been fabricated.

Boliyev said three judges who refused to find him guilty had been dismissed during the trial. A fourth judge finally acquitted Boliyev, allowing him to get treatment for the multiple injuries he had suffered in jail.

"I was close to having a heart attack," Boliyev said. "They had damaged my spine, heart, kidneys and head. It was terrible."

"After Anna Politkovskaya's article appeared, there was a public outcry and things changed very quickly," he said.

This past summer, Boliyev learned new charges had been filed against him: He was suspected of aiding the terrorists who seized Moscow's Dubrovka Theater in October 2002.

Boliyev and his family fled to Ukraine and appealed to the United Nations for political asylum. The family now lives in Sweden.

Many refugees from the conflict in the North Caucasus share Boliyev's sense of indebtedness to Politkovskaya. On its web site, Novaya Gazeta created a forum for condolences after her death. The forum contains a number of postings from refugees now living in Europe.

Even if she didn't help a family directly, Politkovskaya greatly improved Chechen refugees' chances of receiving political asylum in the Netherlands, said Islam Bashirov, who previously headed the local Chechen community there.

At a 2003 photo exhibition in Amsterdam devoted to Chechnya, Politkovskaya delivered a talk about the persecution Chechens faced across Russia. Refugees were able to introduce her speech in court as expert testimony to back up their asylum claims, Bashirov said.

"The Dutch government was trying to close its eyes and force refugees out by saying they could live elsewhere in Russia," Bashirov said. "Many courts were closing people's [asylum application] cases by saying that the situation in Russia was normal, when in fact people faced open discrimination."

Bashirov himself received asylum after his arrest on a trumped-up weapons charge in 1999.

Nina Levurda sobbed as she talked about Politkovskaya last week. Levurda sued the Defense Ministry when the army refused for six months to provide her with information about the death of her son, Lieutenant Pavel Levurda, in Chechnya.

"I'm certain that I won the case thanks to her," said Levurda, a resident of Ivanovo. "She wrote an article about my son and how the trial was conducted improperly. She helped me out financially, too, and I'll remember that for the rest of my life -- that someone I saw for the first time was so gracious toward me."

Pavel Finogenov, whose brother died in the Dubrovka hostage crisis, said that Politkovskaya played a leading role in exposing irregularities during the trials that followed.

The crisis ended when Special Forces commandos pumped a knockout gas into the theater and then stormed it. Most of the victims among the hostages died as a result of the gas. Many relatives of the victims filed suit against the government.

"Anna was the only reason the public found out what was going on in the courtroom," Finogenov said.

Politkovskaya also offered her services as a negotiator during the Dubrovka crisis.

"She was the thread that connected the hostages to the people outside the police cordon," said Finogenov, who himself waited outside the theater while his brother with his fiancee languished inside.

The people Politkovskaya wrote about generally remember her as being honest, open and compassionate to the point of neglecting her own needs.

Levurda remembered Politkovskaya giving her a ride to the Novaya Gazeta office. "We were in her old Zhiguli, and I noticed she was wearing dress shoes -- in November. I said, 'Why are you wearing dress shoes, it's cold!' To which she replied, 'I don't have time to think about shoes.'"

 Moscow's credibility is on the line over its ability to prosecute those responsible for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Sunday, Reuters reported.

Barroso said he would raise the murder with President Vladimir Putin in person, adding he would be "frank" in his discussions.

"We want those who have assassinated Mrs. Politkovskaya, a great fighter for freedom of expression, to be brought to justice," Barroso told BBC Television.