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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politkovskaya Honored One Year On

MTA man holding up a photo of Politkovskaya on Novopushkinsky Square on Sunday. About 2,000 people came to honor the journalist one year after her murder.
A Moscow rally to commemorate Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya went ahead without incident Sunday, but a conference in honor of the murdered journalist in Nizhny Novgorod over the weekend had to be canceled in the face of official obstacles.

Up to 2,000 opposition leaders, journalists and rights activists who braved miserable weather to gather near Pushkin Square on Sunday listened as speakers condemned the authorities for what they called an unwillingness to try to solve the murder case.

The Nizhny Novgorod conference to mark the anniversary did not go ahead, however, because of an orchestrated effort by local authorities to disrupt the event, organizers said.

Oksana Chelysheva, a representative of the Tolerance Support Foundation, the nongovernmental organization that planned the Nizhny Novgorod event, said a bank transfer from the U.S. Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy for the event was blocked by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service.

The conference was to take place Friday and Saturday, but the hosts of the event were notified Thursday that $30,000 to be transferred into the foundation's account with VTB-24 to cover venue and hotel costs had been blocked, Chelysheva said by telephone.

"We were informed that [the bank] had received instructions from the Federal Financial Monitoring Service recommending that they not work with us," Chelysheva said. She accused the bank of breaking its contract with the NGO.

A woman who answered the phone at a VTB-24 branch in Nizhny Novgorod said no one was available to comment Friday. But Georgy Grechin, a branch manager there, said the bank's actions were dictated by Russian law, Kommersant reported Friday.

Nizhny Novgorod City Hall denied the accusation, while calls to the Federal Financial Monitoring Service's press office went unanswered Friday.

Foreign representatives of human rights organizations were also denied rooms they had reserved in local hotels, and four were detained by local police Saturday for not having proper registration, Chelysheva said, Interfax reported.

She said the four detainees -- citizens of Spain, Britain and Germany -- were picked up at the local The Other Russia offices and fined 3,000 to 5,000 rubles ($120 to $200) before being released.

Several international human rights organizations had planned to participate in the conference, including Amnesty International and the World Organization Against Torture. Two of the foreign guests had their hotel reservations canceled -- with flooding given as the official reason -- while another two were forced to vacate their rooms when the hotel said it was filled beyond capacity.

The Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow events, as well as gatherings of about 200 people in St. Petersburg and 40 people in Yekaterinburg on Sunday, were just some of the events associated with the anniversary of Politkovskaya's death.

A group of protesters holding photos of the late journalist outside the Russian Embassy in Berlin and the dedication and renaming of a street in Rome to Politkovskaya, attended by her daughter, Vera, demonstrated the international resonance of the event.

Those who attended the Moscow meeting Sunday huddled under umbrellas on a rain-swept Novopushkinsky Square to listen to former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov, human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva and others condemn official efforts to solve the murder case.

"A year after her death, countries around the world are naming streets and squares after Politkovskaya," Kasyanov said in a highly amplified bass voice, sending echoes booming around the center's historical buildings.

Igor Tabakov / MT
Soldiers standing guard around the Novopushkinsky Square event Sunday.
"But in Russia, they think that she has done more harm than good," Kasyanov added, his face blown up on a large screen beside him.

"We should fight for freedom," Muratov told the crowd, which answered with cheers of "Freedom! Freedom!"

Banners and flags penetrating the layer of umbrellas read "Politkovskaya: Those responsible will pay," and "Anya: Will we neither forget nor forgive."

Politkovskaya, whose articles were sharply critical of state actions in Chechnya, was gunned down in her apartment building as she returned from grocery shopping last Oct. 7. Many suspect a link between her work and murder.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have publicly pointed the finger at the Kremlin's enemies abroad, without offering evidence to back up the allegations.

No arrests were made until almost 11 months after the killing when, one day short of what would have been Politkovskaya's 49th birthday, prosecutors announced that 10 suspects had been detained. A number were subsequently released, however, because of a lack of evidence.

Six different theories about the crime are currently being examined, Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Prosecutor General's Office's Investigative Committee, said last week, Izvestia reported.

Sunday's rally was organized by the Other Russia coalition of opposition forces, which staged a similar but much smaller event in August commemorating her birthday.

Conspicuous in his absence this time around was Garry Kasparov, one of the co-leaders of The Other Russia and its candidate for the presidential election in March. Kasparov could not be reached for comment Sunday, but Other Russia member Denis Bilunov said he stayed away because of the format.

"There was an unfortunate disagreement," Bilunov said, adding that Kasparov had complained about the "politicization" of the anniversary. Kasparov said he thought Kasyanov was using the event to promote his own Russian People's Democratic Party, whose flags were on prominent display Sunday.

Some of those who attended had no political motives at all.

"It is very unlikely the world will see someone like Politkovskaya ever again," said Yevgeny Sapor, 63, who heard about the rally from Ekho Moskvy radio. "It is simply our duty to remember her."

Following the speeches, about 500 of those who had turned up made their way to Politkovskaya's apartment building and laid flowers at the door.

The heavy police presence -- Interfax reported 2,500 policemen were deployed around Novopushkinsky Square -- was beefed up by hundreds of volunteer police wearing red armbands.

"We came of our own accord to help police stop hooliganism," said one middle-aged volunteer, known in Russian as a druzhinnik. The volunteer, who would not give his name, said he had not been paid to attend.

As of late Sunday, there was no statement from the Kremlin on the anniversary, which was also President Vladimir Putin's 55th birthday.

Staff Writer Alexander Osipovich contributed to this report.