Six Years Later, Children Of Murdered Russian Journalist Fight For Justice

Anna Politkovskaya a year before her death
Anna Politkovskaya a year before her death
Aleksei Sokovnin

MOSCOW - In a new twist in the case of Anna Politkovskaya, the prominent Russian investigative journalist murdered in 2006, her children are filing a petition to rescind a plea bargain reached with one of the men involved in their mother's assassination.

Politkovskaya was a well-known investigative journalist who reported extensively for the Russian paper Novaya Gazeta on Moscow's military actions and abuses in Chechnya. She was gunned down in the entrance to her apartment building in October 2006.

According to Anna Stavitskaya, the Politkovksaya’s children’s lawyer, Ilya and Vera Politkovskaya decided to file the petition after reviewing the details of the testimony of Dmitri Pavlyuchenkov, a former colonel in the Moscow police implicated in the killing.

“I can’t give you details, but we came to the conclusions that Pavlyuchenkov was not completely truthful in his testimony, and that means he did not fulfill the requirements of the plea bargain,” Stavitskaya explained. The plea bargain in question would reduce Pavlyuchenkov’s prison term by one-third.

According to Stavitskaya, the main problem with Pavlyuchenkov’s testimony is that he did not fully explain his true role in the killing of Anna Politkovskaya. “He gave the investigators a politically motivated version regarding the person who contracted the killing,” Stavitskaya said. “We think he is trying to shift blame away from himself. He also named the wrong person when asked to say who contracted the killing.”

During the investigation Pavlyuchenkov said that the businessman Boris Berezovskii and the former emissary from Chechen fighters Akhmed Zakaev were behind the killing. Zakaev now has political refugee status in Britain.

Politkovskaya’s children do not believe those are the real people behind their mother’s assassination, but Stavitskaya did not say who they thought the real mastermind was.

Still they do think that Pavlyuchenkov was one of the main organizers of their mother's murder. They would like to rescind the agreement between them and the prosecutor’s office and return Pavlyuchenkov’s case to the larger investigation regarding the journalist’s death. The other players in the case have not admitted guilt, and will be tried as part of the case.

Links to Forbes editor murder?

Russian investigators have announced that there were no grounds to revoke the agreement with Pavlyuchenkov, since they consider him to have fulfilled the responsibilities written into the agreement. The official representative of the investigative committee, Vladimir Markin, said that in addition to providing information on the death of Anna Politkovskaya, Pavlyuchenkov also “gave valuable information on other criminal investigations that have resonated internationally.”

According to data obtained by Kommersant, he is referring to the killing of the Editor-in-Chief of the Russian edition of Forbes in 2004. Investigators now believe that both crimes were organized by the Chechen criminal Lom-Ali Gaitukaev.

Pavlyuchenkov’s lawyer, Karen Nersesyan, says he understands Politkovskaya’s children’s feelings, but disagrees with them. “The whole point of the agreement is to give someone who admits his or her guilt some bargaining chips,” he said. Nersesyan is sure that his client deserves those bargaining chips.

“When they reviewed the case, I think the victim’s children convinced themselves that they would get all the answers from my client,” Nersesyan said. He says that the roles of the different players, except for the person who hired the killing, are described in detail by his client. If Pavlyuchenkov had not given his testimony, Nersesyan said, the whole case might have gone cold.

Nersesyan doesn't think Politkovskaya’s children would have much luck with their petition. An analysis of the relevant laws would seem to support his position. The law does not generally provide a provision for relatives of the victim to participate in plea bargain agreements in any way.

The investigative committee had originally accused Pavlyuchenkov of organizing the murder from the beginning. According to the investigation’s version of events, Pavlyuchenkov received the “order” from Gaitukaev. With the help of police officers under his command, he had the journalist followed, and gave her address to the two brothers who are accused of having actually carried out the assassination. Colonel Pavlyuchenkov gave a pistol to one of the brothers, who used it to shoot Politkovskaya on October 7, 2006 in the entrance to her Moscow apartment building.

After reaching the plea bargain deal with Pavlyuchenkov, the charges against him were reduced from organizing the murder to being a participant in the murder.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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