Muratov and Novaya Gazeta: Russia's independent media stalwarts

Moscow (AFP) –


The Novaya Gazeta newspaper, whose editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, is one of Russia's few surviving independent news outlets, and its work has cost several of its journalists their lives.

Muratov, who was among a group of journalists who founded Novaya Gazeta in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union, said after the announcement of the respected prize that it really belonged to all the newspaper's journalists.

"I can't take credit for this. This is Novaya Gazeta's," Muratov, 59, told Russian news agency TASS, saying the award was for "those who died defending the people's right to freedom of speech".

The Nobel came just a day after Novaya Gazeta marked the 15th anniversary of the killing of its best-known journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down on October 7, 2006.

Since the early 2000s, six Novaya Gazeta journalists and contributors have been killed in connection with their work -- their black-and-white portraits now hang together in the newspaper's office.

In an interview with AFP in March, Muratov said the newspaper's journalists knew their work could put their lives at risk, but that unlike some other Kremlin critics they would not flee the country.

"This newspaper is dangerous for people's lives," Muratov said. "We are not going anywhere. We will live and work in Russia."

Muratov and Novaya Gazeta's other founders were inspired by the newfound freedoms that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A key early supporter was former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who donated part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize money to buy the new publication its first computers -- one of them still on display in their office.

The heady optimism of those early days is long gone. In the years since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999, critical voices have been increasingly pushed to the sidelines in Russia.

- Media crackdown -

Still, the Kremlin congratulated Muratov on the award, with Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov describing Muratov as "talented and "courageous."

"He is committed to his ideals," Peskov said.

This year in particular Novaya Gazeta has been a bastion of outspokenness in a grey media landscape.

Kremlin critics say authorities are waging a campaign against independent and critical voices with many branded foreign agents and others forced to shut down. Some prominent journalists have fled the country.

Novaya Gazeta and its journalists have long faced intimidation and violence.

In another high-profile incident in 2009, human rights activist and contributor Natalia Estemirova, a friend of Politkovskaya's, was kidnapped in Chechnya and later found dead in neighbouring Inghushetia.

In 2018, a funeral wreath and a severed ram's head were delivered to the paper's offices with a note addressed to one its reporters who covered the shadowy Wagner mercenary group operating in the Middle East and Africa.

The investigations had shed light on Wagner's operations abroad and on its alleged ties to a Kremlin-linked businessman, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Earlier this year, the paper was again targeted in what editors said was an apparent chemical attack.

Despite the heavy price, the newspaper has refused to shy away from tough investigations, and it was one of the publications that dug through the trove of documents leaked in the Panama Papers scandal, exposing offshore wealth of Russian officials.

Muratov was born in the southwestern city of Kuybyshev, now called Samara, on October 30, 1961.

He worked early in his career for the populist daily Komsomolskaya Pravda but left with several of his colleagues who were not happy with its editorial policies. Together they founded Novaya Gazeta and Muratov has served several times as its editor-in-chief since 1995.