Russia's most outspoken opposition journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered Saturday, alarming not only her colleagues in the media but also the country's dwindling human rights community.
"No one has any idea who exactly killed her, or why. But I feel all that's going on [in Russia] these days is fascism," says Alla Gerber, head of the independent Holocaust Foundation.
Ms. Politkovskaya, a mother of two, was the 13th Russian journalist to be targeted in a contract-style murder since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York.
A fearless liberal of seemingly boundless energies, during the 2002 Moscow theater siege she went in and spoke to the hostage takers. But she was often at odds with a Russia that has been increasingly authoritarian and xenophobic under Mr. Putin.
"She was the most critical journalist remaining in Russia, never afraid to write what she thought," says Sergei Strokan, an editor at the liberal daily newspaper Kommersant and longtime colleague of Politkovskaya. "There seems no way to explain her killing, except that it somehow relates to her work as a critical, investigative journalist. But why should it happen now?"
As a special correspondent of the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, partly owned by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Politkovskaya was one of a handful of journalists to cover both sides of the second Chechen war, which broke out in late 1999.
In the early stages of the war, she reported on Russian atrocities against Chechen civilians and the mass torture and killings of alleged rebel prisoners in the notorious Chernokozovo prison camp in northern Chechnya.
Death threats, usually anonymous, were a staple of her life. In 2001, she went into voluntary exile for several months after being warned that a Russian officer who she had accused of killing Chechen civilians was bent on taking revenge. The officer, Sergei Lapin, was detained but released for lack of evidence.
"Politkovskaya was the only one writing the truth about the war, and Novaya Gazeta was the only paper in Russia that had been opposing the Putin regime in a consistent, principled way," says Boris Kagarlitsky, a regular writer with Novaya Gazeta.
A Novaya Gazeta editor said Monday that Politkovskaya had been preparing an exposé on torture and disappearances in Chechnya carried out by security forces under control of the pro-Moscow prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov when she was killed.
"We never got the article, but she had evidence and there were photographs," deputy editor Vitaly Yaroshevsky said..