Russia Pushes Probe of Reporter Anna Politkovskaya’s Death

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Investigators are focusing their inquiry into the killing of a Russian investigative reporter on former police officers linked to crimes against civilians in Chechnya, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

Anna Politkovskaya, who had exposed killings, torture and other abuses against civilians in Chechnya, was gunned down in an apparent contract killing in her apartment building Oct. 7. The gunmen have not been found and the murder set off a chorus of protest from foreign governments and international organizations.

President Vladimir Putin, who has been criticized at home and abroad for dwindling media freedom in Russia, was asked about the killings of Politkovskaya and top Central Bank regulator Andrei Kozlov in a question-and-answer session on Wednesday.

“The obligation of the state is to bring any such investigation to the end _ this concerns the killings of mass media representatives and killings in the economic sphere,” he said, without referring to the journalist directly.

Kommersant, citing unidentified sources, said investigators looking into her death traveled to the Siberian region of Khanty-Mansiisk, about 1,200 miles east of Moscow, last week after reports that two police officers wanted for crimes in Chechnya had been seen there. One of the officers, Sergei Lapin, had been implicated separately in 2001 in e-mail threats against Politkovskaya.

The Prosecutor General’s office had no immediate comment on the report.

Kommersant said an article Politkovskaya wrote in 2001 linked the killing of a Chechen man, Zelimkhan Murdalov, to Khanty-Mansiisk police officers who were serving in Chechnya and had detained him. Lapin was sentenced to 11 years in March 2005 for causing severe bodily harm to Murdalov and abusing his authority.

Kommersant said Lapin’s father and sister were questioned by Federal Security Service agents, and eight more officers are being sought by authorities.

In 2001, Politkovskaya fled to Vienna, Austria, for several months after receiving e-mail threats alleging that Lapin was intent on revenge. He was detained in 2002 in connection with the case, but the matter was closed the following year.

Kommersant also reported that investigators believed three people participated in the killing, including a man and a young woman who had been trailing Politkovskaya and who were captured on a security camera at a store where the journalist picked up groceries before returning home on the day she was killed.

The European Parliament, meanwhile, urged EU member states to give “serious thought” to their future relations with Russia in light of the Politkovskaya’s killing.

The parliamentarians voiced their concerns over what they called increasing intimidation, harassment and murder of journalists and other people critical of the Russian government, saying the tendency could worsen Russia’s reputation abroad.

In a strongly worded resolution, the parliament urged the member states to “give serious thought to the future of relations with the Russian Federation … with a view to placing democracy human rights and freedom of expression at the core of any future agreement.”

The resolution is not binding, but is used as a form of political pressure by the EU’s only elected body.

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