Thursday, January 22, 2009

Murder in Moscow

An open letter to Dmitry Medvedev, president of Russia:

Your Excellency:

On January 20, Stanislav Markelov, lawyer for the independent newspaper Novaya, was gunned down on a Moscow street.. As you may recall, Mr. Markelov was counsel to journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was shot to death in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow in October, 2006. An award-winning journalist, Politkovskayaya was investigating reports of torture and abuse in Chechnya.

Anastasiya Baburova, a young reporter who was walking alongside Markelov when he was shot, reportedly attempted to apprehend the gunman, but was herself shot in the head, and later died in hospital. Baburova and Markelov were attacked as they left a press conference at the Independent Press Centre.

Just hours before he was killed, Mr. Markelov formally protested the early release of a Russian army officer who had been convicted in 2003 for the murder of a Chechen girl. It is chilling to think that among his last words, Markelov said "I understand now that there is no rule of law" in Russia

Ironically, on the same day that this prominent human rights lawyer, and a young Moscow journalist, were brutally assassinated in your country's capital, we, in the United States, celebrated the inauguration of President Barack Obama who has vowed to restore the rule of law in the U.S. I call upon you, as president of Russia, to initiate a new era in which those who investigate, and report, misdeeds by private corporations, or government officials, will not have to fear for their lives.

Just as economic instability can spread from country to country, continent to continent, respect for a free press, the denunciation of torture and corruption, and affirmation of the rule of law can likewise spread.

President Obama is taking swift and decisive action to address the misadventures of the Bush administration. I submit to you, Mr. President, that it may well be time for Russia, too, to abandon the corruption, and fear-mongering of your predecessor, commit to finding out the truth, no matter where it leads, and see to it that justice is done so that never again will the streets of Moscow be stained with a writer's blood. I am confident you agree that anything less is cowardice.

There are some who may think it naive to suggest that Russia and the U.S. must opt for a future of mutual cooperation, and mutual respect for a free press, but really there can be no future without both cooperation and mutual respect.

The savage violation of those who report on injustice and corruption can no longer be tolerated. Glasnost is a Russian word, yes? It is time for Russia to experience the kind of transformation that will support a probe into human rights abuses in Chechnya, and in Moscow, too, as the murder of a journalist is itself a human rights violation.

As one of the 3,300 writers who are members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, I am writing to express my shock and outrage at the gunning down of lawyer Markelov and journalist Baburova.

I respectfully call on you, and Russian authorities, to initiate a full and impartial investigation into these egregious assassinations, and to bring those responsible for carrying out and ordering the killings to justice. I also call on the Russian authorities to unequivocally condemn all attacks on the independent press and to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of journalists.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.