15 years on, editors warn time up for justice in Politkovskaya murder

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Russians commemorated Thursday the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya 15 years ago on President Vladimir Putin's birthday, while her newspaper warned time had run out to punish the masterminds of the murder.

Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of Putin and the Kremlin's wars in Chechnya, was gunned down on October 7, 2006, in the entrance hall of her apartment block in central Moscow. She was 48 years old.

Falling on Putin's birthday, the killing of a top investigative reporter -- who worked for Russia's leading independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and contributed to Western publications including the Guardian -- sent shockwaves around the world.

"Fifteen years after the murder of our journalist, the statute of limitations on the crime has expired. By law, only a court can extend it," Novaya Gazeta wrote on the eve of the anniversary.

"Otherwise, the masterminds will go unpunished."

The commemorative events at Novaya Gazeta's editorial offices come amid an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition and independent media, with authorities imprisoning Russia's top opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

After all this time, investigators have yet to say who ordered the apparent contract killing, and Novaya Gazeta says the authorities have no real interest in pursuing the investigation any further for political reasons.

Putin's spokesman said Thursday it was "very difficult" to investigate contract killings.

"We would all of course like for the instigators of this crime -- both who ordered and executed it -- to be punished," Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

- 'Inevitability of punishment' -

Asked if the Kremlin would be in favour of extending the statute of limitations for Politkovskaya's murder, Peskov said that the "inevitability of punishment" for such crimes was paramount.

Putin was criticised at home and abroad for saying in 2006 that Politkovskaya's "ability to influence political life in Russia was minimal."

In 2014, a court sentenced two men to life in prison for Politkovskaya's killing and handed lengthy prison terms to three others involved.

Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, a Chechen man who was found guilty of organising the hit, died in 2017 in a penal colony where he was serving a life sentence.

Novaya Gazeta staff have conducted their own investigation, and on Thursday released a nearly two-hour film on YouTube detailing their years-long probe.

In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Russia for failing to take adequate steps to find those who ordered Politkovskaya to be killed.

Judges concluded that Russian investigators should have explored possibilities that the crime was ordered by "agents of Russia's FSB domestic secret service or of the administration of the Chechen Republic".

Politkovskaya won numerous awards for her reports and books, while several awards were established in her name. Her office at Novaya Gazeta has been preserved to honour the slain reporter.

Co-founded by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993, Novaya Gazeta is one of the few media outlets left voicing criticism of Putin, who turned 69 on Thursday.

The newspaper has paid dearly for speaking out, however. Since 2000, six of its journalists have been killed in connection with their work.

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