Russian revolution
THE WEEK|October 31, 2021
A newspaper launched 28 years ago by a group of young journalists led by Dmitry Muratov remains the flag-bearer of independent journalism in Russia
AJISH P. JOY

On October 16 and 17, 2018, investigative journalist Denis Korotkov of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper received two unusual parcels. The first was a funeral wreath with a note attached, calling him a traitor to his country. What followed was even more bizarre—a basket with a severed goat’s head and a bunch of red carnations.

Korotkov was working on a story about the criminal enterprises of Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin. Said to be the man behind the shadowy mercenary force called the Wagner group, Prigozhin is on the FBI’s most-wanted list. The Novaya Gazeta published the story five days later.

It is this fearlessness that defines the Novaya Gazeta and its editor-in-chief Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov, who won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, along with fellow journalist from the Philippines, Maria Ressa. But it has not been an easy journey for him. Muratov, 59, has lost more journalists to murder than any other Russian editor. Six of his journalists and collaborators have been killed in the line of duty. Muratov keeps their black and white portraits in the newspaper’s office, perhaps as a stark reminder of how dangerous journalism can be.

The first colleague Muratov lost was investigative journalist Igor Domnikov, who was beaten to death in July 2000, allegedly on the orders of a former deputy governor of the Lipetsk region in western Russia. Yuri Shchekochikhin was poisoned in 2003 while working on a corruption case involving officials from the Federal Security Services (FSB, a KGB successor) and the prosecutor general’s office. Lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who represented Muratov in the Domnikov case, was shot dead in 2009, along with young reporter Anastasia Baburova. Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped and killed in 2009, while working on a story in Chechnya.

The most noticed assassination was that of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006; she had documented human rights abuses by the Russian army in Chechnya. It was Muratov who used to cover Chechnya initially, and the quality of the coverage was one of the main reasons behind the early success of the new newspaper, which was launched in 1993.

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