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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politkovskaya Mission Causes a Stir

Itar-TassPaul Steiger, left, and Joel Simon after briefing journalists Tuesday on their meeting with Foreign Ministry officials.
A high-profile delegation from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists came to Moscow hoping to nudge forward the investigation into the killing of Anna Politkovskaya.

Instead, a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials -- at which CPJ representatives said they were told that a criminal investigation had been opened into police officials in Chechnya -- set off a storm of denials Tuesday and only added to the controversy surrounding the murder of the Novaya Gazeta reporter.

At a news conference Tuesday, CPJ said the information was disclosed by Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Boris Malakhov at a meeting Monday.

Malakhov denied this. "Absolutely nothing like that was said at the meeting," he said by telephone later Tuesday. "I don't know where they got that information from."

Instead, Malakhov said he had told the delegation that prosecutors in Chechnya were investigating a link between Politkovskaya's last article, about torture in the region, and her death.

Politkovskaya was known for her courageous reporting exposing torture and other human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The Chechen Interior Ministry said it had no information that any of its officers were in any way involved in the killing of Politkovskaya, and Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov called the committee's statement a "provocation," Interfax reported.

Nina Ognianova, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said the meeting was in English and that the ministry's statement was put in such unambiguous terms that clarification was not required.

"We reported to you what we heard: that the Prosecutor General's Office has launched a criminal investigation into several Chechen police officers," Ognianova said, adding that Malakhov said he had obtained the information directly from the Prosecutor General's Office.

"We were just pleased to hear the investigation was making progress," she said.

Paul Steiger, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and CPJ board chairman, said he had asked the Foreign Ministry officials to confirm their statement, which they did.

CPJ executive director Joel Simon said the ministry officials had stressed that Chechen police involvement was just one of several theories being pursued by investigators.

The CPJ delegation was in Moscow to push for more effective and transparent investigations into attacks on journalists and particularly into the murder of Politkovskaya, who was shot in her Moscow apartment building in October.

The killing caused an international outcry and deepened concerns about press freedom in Russia.

Simon said he was aware that journalists were not the only ones being killed in Russia, but said more needed to be done to punish the perpetrators of attacks on journalists.

"There is no doubt in my mind that impunity fuels violence," he said.

Simon said the meeting with Foreign Ministry officials began with "a certain level of mistrust."

"They printed out all of our press releases and we had to defend the facts in each one," he said after the news conference, adding that once this had been done, the talks went smoothly.

Steiger said the committee "received several positive responses, but much more needs to be done."

The CPJ delegation was also scheduled to meet with Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, but he canceled at the last minute. He was sent to Sochi with President Vladimir Putin, Peskov's deputy, Alexander Smirnov, said by telephone.

CPJ had requested a meeting with Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, but received no response to its formal request and several follow-up telephone calls, Ognianova said. "We meet with prosecutors in other countries, and even heads of state," she said. "But Russian prosecutors have never agreed to meet us."

When asked why Chaika's office had refused to meet the group, a spokeswoman there said she had asked her superiors for a reason but was told to issue a "no comment."

The Associated Press quoted a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office as saying prosecutors were pursuing a single investigation into Politkovskaya's killing and that the Prosecutor General's Office would not disclose details while it continued. The spokeswoman, Natalya Brusentsova, said the office was unaware of a separate investigation involving Chechen police.

Following a series of Politkovskaya's articles exposing police atrocities in Chechnya, one of the officers whom she accused of abuses, Sergei Lapin, was implicated in e-mail threats made against the journalist. In 2001, Politkovskaya fled to Vienna after receiving warnings that Lapin was intent on revenge.

Lapin, who did a tour of duty in Chechnya but was based in the Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous district in Siberia, was detained in 2002 and later sentenced to 11 years in prison by a court in Chechnya. Prosecutors have said they were seeking two of his fellow officers from Khanty-Mansiisk for questioning in the Politkovskaya murder case.

Prosecutors in the far eastern city of Partizansk have identified a man suspected of beating Tamara Golovanova, Interfax reported. Golovanova, a journalist with the local Vesti newspaper, was beaten in the face and chest when she tried to photograph subjects for an investigative article on complaints about a local company director.