Getting Away With Murder

It's a sad irony: as the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia is relapsing into some of its Soviet ways. Much of what we've been seeing with the intimidation of journalists in Iran is routine in Russia—in fact, for reporters, Russia is now more dangerous than it was even during the Cold War. Seventeen have been murdered since 2000; in only one case has the killer been punished. Only Iraq and Algeria have worse records.

Any state that turns a blind eye toward the assassination of reporters can't call itself a democracy. When our own democracy was in its earliest days, Patrick Henry said, "The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them." In Russia today, the rulers' transactions are ever more concealed. Most disturbing, as truth tellers are felled by assassins' bullets, the Russian people have responded with a giant shrug. The reason for this apathy is obvious: the vast majority get only government-filtered news,

During the Cold War, truth was in short supply, and those who challenged authority were often sent to prison. In 1955 my own parents were convicted of being CIA agents just for doing their jobs as American reporters in Budapest. There was no one then to shame my parents' captors, the way the Committee to Protect Journalists did with Roxana Sabieri in Iran. As in her case, my parents' prison sentences were cut short partly as a result of articles in The New York Times.

Few journalists have paid a higher price for their courage than those at Novaya Gazeta, Russia's most independent voice. Imagine going to work, passing portraits of your paper's three stars, Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shechekochikin, and Anna Politkovskaya—all murdered. In February the three defendants in Politkovskaya's trial walked, but Russia's Supreme Court ordered a retrial—a crucially important step forward. Her supporters honored her memory by urging President Obama, ahead of his Moscow visit, to speak out about democratic ideals.

In his 2008 inaugural address, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said "all instances related to attempts on the life and health of journalists will be investigated and prosecuted." CPJ will continue to remind him of that pledge. A great nation, with a legitimate claim to a leadership role on the world stage, cannot behave this way.