It’s our duty to make sure you are not forgotten – that evil does NOT win, and that your legacy lives on.

13 years on from Anna’s murder, 2019 Anna Politkovskaya Award winner, Alex Crawford, publishes a personal Letter to Anna on the anniversary of her murder. On the anniversary the letter was printed in Anna’s paper in Moscow, “Novaya Gazeta”.

It’s our duty to make sure you are not forgotten – that evil does NOT win, and that your legacy lives on.

Dear Anna,

I never knew you. But your words are punching through with such force right now that I feel like you are in the room with me. You’re sitting across from me, telling me – with brutal clarity – that as a fellow journalist, I have a duty. And that duty is to make sure your murder is not in vain.

You were just 48 when you were killed, younger than me, yet so much wiser, so much braver, so staggeringly indomitable.

I’m almost frightened by your courage. I’m overwhelmed by your incredible writing. I’m terrified by what happened to you and what is continuing to happen to so many other women journalists trying to expose the truth.
You are being patient with me now as we sit here alone together. I can hear your voice in my head. Tell them, you’re saying to me, tell WHOEVER will listen. Tell them
about the atrocities, the executions, the tortures that are going on now, today, as they read this.

I’m in Hong Kong as I’m listening to you but I can hear the roar of revolution outside my window. And that somehow makes your voice in my head all the clearer. Even here, in this, one of the world’s most important financial hubs, they’re being savagely beaten, teargassed and shot for demanding democracy, freedom and human rights. 

But I feel inadequate. I am not you Anna. You didn’t ever shirk from documenting what you called the genocide in Chechnya. You detailed the deaths and torture with shocking clarity, wielding your words like an axe, describing the crushed testicles, the scalpings, the burning alive of both men and women. You’re searing these images in my mind like a branding iron. Your words are so vivid that I can hear the screaming of the men as the Russian soldiers kick them in the testicles and then brutally f**k them.
I listen to you telling me this is still going on, 13 years after your murder for exposing Russian brutality. It’s going on now. They are exacting a terrible ‘gay purge’, rounding up, beating, torturing and killing LGBTI people in Chechnya.

It’s happening too in Syria. Russian tanks, Russian soldiers, Russian jets are
bombing civilians, hospitals, market places, children. The Russian support for Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad – a dictator who survived an initial civilian revolution – leaves him in a stronger position than ever. And they are exacting a terrible revenge. Children are dying, Anna. They’re being bombed in their beds. I feel their fear. I see the terror in their young faces and the pain in their eyes when I visit them in one of the underground hospitals still operating in Idlib – the last rebel-held area in Syria. The hospitals are built underground now, Anna, because the Russians and Syria regimes are deliberately targeting hospitals. They are war crimes but these war crimes go on unpunished and the public’s so de-sensitised now to this war, they barely notice. It’s heart-breaking. 

It is because of the world’s indifference or inaction that the Syrian revolution has been subsumed by jihadis, terror groups and different militia. But in the middle of the battlefield there are millions of civilians, struggling to stay alive. And on the fringes of all these civilians, is a thin line of journalists fighting to survive themselves and battling to make sure the voices of the ordinary are heard. You brought the hell that was the war in Chechnya to the world’s attention. But I so wish you were alive now, to make the planet sit up and take notice of the terrible things that are happening in so many places right now but which are forgotten or neglected. 

You would have done a far better job than me in Libya where I was a few months ago, witnessing the mayhem on the outskirts of the capital and the insidious internet manipulation as rival groups distorted my reports to incite hatred. 

In Cameroon too I witnessed what incredible women journalists like Mimi Mefo are up against on a daily basis. She has been terrorised and jailed for reporting on army atrocities against the Anglophone minority but still pushes on despite the considerable risks. 

The atrocities are gut-wrenching, Anna. They’re decapitating teachers there for flouting orders to stop schooling. Whilst soldiers are lining up mothers and executing them in front of their children before killing their little ones too. These are largely unseen wars. 

We’re under attack, Anna. Journalists are being targeted – physically by guns and warplanes; verbally by world leaders; online by mercenary trolls operated by unseen, untraceable intelligence agencies on a dictator’s orders.

We’re being denigrated at every turn. Our work is being trampled on and trashed.We’re being hounded and killed.

I see the incredible, courageous work being done by far better, far braver journalists than me and I’m confused why you’re asking me to be the voice, Anna. You don’t tell me why but you DO tell me to stop hesitating and get on with it. Because while I’m dithering, more journalists are being targeted.

Like Honduras journalist Sandra Maribel Sanchez, who, while I’m writing this, is telling people how she had a gun held to her head by an unidentified man who ordered her to get into a car with him. He left only when interrupted by another vehicle coming by. Sandra has been very critical about the Honduran armed forces, the security crisis and government corruption. She’s already had death threats.

Or Maria Ressa, from the Philippines, who has been repeatedly harassed,
intimidated and jailed for her criticism of President Duterte’s government but is utterly unbowed and undeterred. 

Or Jineth Bedoya Lima, in Colombia, who is still being threatened as she is trying to expose the five rebels who gang-raped her and the general who ordered it. She goes around daily with armed guards to protect her. But she’s still fighting. The courage of these women journalists and what they’re enduring takes your breath away. 

Anna, you were executed in the hallway of your apartment block
Did you look in your killer’s eyes and see the evil there? Learning about how you approached the avalanche of hate and fear and intimidation which always accompanied your work, I’m imagining you stood defiantly to the end. 

I feel like you’re telling me how lucky I am. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to go home and be able to hug my four children and partner. Lucky to have escaped a terrifying attack in Idlib when Russian and Syrian regime drones, jets and bullets targeted my team and tried to kill us. Lucky to have survived to tell the world about it. But Anna, I’m petrified. I was scared to my core, running for my life as the shells kept on coming. And I was ashamed of my fear too. 

I’m thinking, in those moments before your death, whether all your life’s work flashed before you, whether you believed as a journalist and human rights activist you felt you’d done all you could.

Of course you did not. You’re still saying loudly and clearly to those journalists still alive that we have a duty. And that our duty is to shout until we’re hoarse, write until our fingers bleed, expose until we die, the shocking truth.

Because if we don’t do that, your death will have been worthless. And we will all have failed you – and journalism.

Anna, I cannot do what you did. You scare me with your determination. But you’ve shown us what we journalists should all be striving to be like – and how important it is for us all, women journalists, in particular, to stand together and fight.

It’s our duty to make sure you are not forgotten – that evil does NOT win, and that your legacy lives on.

From all of us, thank you Anna. Our greatest fear should be letting you down. 

Much respect,

Go to Alex’ award page for more information