Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Truth in the Time of Putinism

Wall Street Journal
October 5, 2010

Four years ago this week, the Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered execution-style in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. The truth is an increasingly scarce commodity in Vladimir Putin's Russia, and Politkovskaya's murder showed that for those courageous enough to pursue it, the consequences can be deadly.

That lesson has been reinforced many times, including in the 2009 murder of Natalia Estemirova, an activist who had worked with Politkovskaya to document human rights abuses in Chechnya and other restive Russian regions. (In 2007, Estemirova was the first recipient of an award named in Politkovskaya's honor.)

Now the Russian authorities' campaign to silence critics has extended to Oleg Orlov, the leader of the human rights group, Memorial, for which Estemirova worked. Mr. Orlov faces serious criminal slander charges—and three years imprisonment if convicted—for implicating Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov in Estemirova's murder. While Mr. Kadyrov claims he had no ties to the killing, Mr. Orlov has said that he bears direct responsibility as the head of the republic. For that statement Mr. Orlov has already paid damages in civil court.