Of the thousand-plus Russians who waited in a steady Moscow drizzle to honor slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya this week, many did not personally know her. They came, as one said, because she was one of the "few people who speak for us."
Independent journalists, human rights activists, and others devoted to freedom and rights in Russia are dwindling. They've been muzzled by the Putin government's near total control of media, partial rollback of democratic government, laws restricting nongovernmental organizations, threats, and arrests. It's unclear who ordered the killing of Russia's leading investigative journalist, but some cite an intolerant atmosphere of nationalism.
Despite such repression, brave people are still speaking out. Their dissent, so vital for a functioning democracy, is the highest honor a Russian could pay to the memory of Ms. Politkovskaya, who devoted her life to investigating atrocities committed in the Russian province of Chechnya. The world needs to help shield these truth-tellers, among them:
Oksana Chelysheva. She follows in Politkovskaya's footsteps as a journalist and human rights activist focused on war-torn Chechnya. She publishes in Russia and travels abroad to speak – despite death threats. Her boss, Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, was convicted in February of inciting ethnic hatred and handed a two-year suspended sentence. Prosecutors are seeking to shut their human rights organization.
Garry Kasparov. The former chess champion travels in Russia with bodyguards. He organized a conference of Russian opposition groups, called "Other Russia," in advance of the G-8 summit in July. Dozens of participants were arrested or detained on the way to the conference.
Yulia Latynina. This Moscow journalist specializes in economics. And issues too hot to handle get an airing in her popular novels about business crimes. But she's still dagger-sharp on her radio show and in her columns. She described the recent assassination of a top Russian banking official as a "story about the complete disintegration of law enforcement bodies.... In a country where the Kremlin can do anything, anyone who has a pistol with a silencer can do anything."
Vladimir Ryzhkov. The US might like to see this politician as Russia's next president. An independent in the parliament, he's criticized its rubber-stamp practices, fought against newspaper closings, and decried elections in authoritarian ally Belarus as a "farce." Now the government is stonewalling as he tries to officially register his Republican Party of Russia.
Georgy Satarov. This political scientist heads the Indem Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that tracks Russian corruption. His 2005 survey shows 55 percent of Russian citizens are touched by corruption and bribes, up from 50 percent in 2001. He was recently refused entry to college speaking engagements in Russia.
These individuals and others, including those who lead unofficial minority religions, have been able to speak out partly because President Putin wants to maintain a sheen of democracy. But this courageous set of activists has been shaken by the death of their high-profile colleague. May they have the courage and protection to keep rattling the Kremlin.•