Yesterday, Russia lost one of its most remarkable citizens, Natalya Estemirova. I was shocked and saddened to learn of her murder and my heart goes out to her family and to her colleagues at Memorial. Natalya was a tireless crusader for the rights and dignity of all individuals. All of us who knew her deeply respected her and her work, and many Americans have asked me to express their condolences to her family.
Natalya understood the danger of her work in Chechnya, but refused to be intimidated. Natalya’s courage and dedication are sources of inspiration; she will truly be missed. We fully support every effort to bring those responsible for this cowardly crime to justice. Natalya would expect that of us.
Thank you for coming this evening to recognize the important work of the Committee to Protect Journalists. It is an honor for me to welcome Paul Steiger, the Chairman of the Board of the CPJ; Joel Simon, the Executive Director; and of course Kati Marton, a member of the board and leader of the delegation.
The Committee’s independence and impartiality is the source of its authority in the United States, in Russia, and around the world. It holds all to the same standards of accountability: the CPJ recently called on the American Secretary of Defense to conduct an independent investigation of the 19 American media workers who lost their lives during the fighting in Iraq.
In supporting the work of the Committee, the United States government makes a clear statement of its commitment to the safety of journalists around the world. As Americans, we deeply believe that a free society depends upon a free press; and a free press cannot exist unless journalists feel safe. If journalists are afraid to report the truth, the press is not free. If those who threaten to kill journalists are not identified and brought to justice, society as a whole is weakened.
Being a jouralist has been a dangerous profession in many countries including my own. The murder of Don Bolles, an investigative reporter killed by the mafia in Arizona, is a well-known but not unique example. Russian history also has known many journalists and writers who were exiled, imprisoned or killed for criticizing injustice, for exposing corruption, or for simply telling the truth. Many of you here tonight knew Natalia Estemirova. She was one of several journalists who spoke about the murder of innocent people, and other violations of human rights in Chechnya. She was killed in July 2009, and her murder has never been solved.
American journalist Paul Khlebnikov was murdered in Moscow in July 2004. He was the author of several books and many articles about the connections between business and organized crime.His killers, and those who ordered this killing, have never been brought to justice.
In October 2006 an unknown assassin killed Anna Politkovskaya, who was widely known for her reporting about the conflict in Chechnya, and her reporting about violations of human rights. Anna was a true voice of freedom. Her children, Vera and Ilya, are here with us tonight.
Tonight we recognize the courage and determination of journalists in all countries who seek to report the truth; and we remember those who have lost their lives because they were not willing to be silent. And we recommit ourselves to work for the day when all journalists around the world can work without fear.
And now it’s my great honor to ask Kati Marton to say a few words.