Dimitri Muratov, captain of the last bastion of the free press in Russia

Russian journalist Dimitri Muratov, one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners, has led the iconic investigative daily Novaya Gazeta through successive storms, a commitment that cost the lives of several of his colleagues.

Two months after the announcement of the award, Muratov, 60, received the award on Friday at a ceremony in Oslo alongside Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, also distinguished this year.

As a captain, Muratov dedicated his award to Novaya Gazeta and his collaborators “killed defending people’s right to freedom of expression”, like journalist Anna Politkovskaya, assassinated in 2006.

The choice to reward this media representative of a combative press comes at a time when the independent press, the opposition and civil society in Russia are being harshly repressed, often labeled as “foreign agents” or banned for “extremism” .

President Vladimir Putin reacted to the award by warning Muratov that the Nobel was not a “shield” that protects him from the status of “foreign agent”, a qualifier that greatly complicates the activity of people and organizations, which come under surveillance.

With his light eyes and a round face with a gray beard, Muratov is reminiscent of a serene father. But behind his good-natured appearance hides a character of steel.

“We are not going anywhere, we are not paid agents of foreign countries,” Muratov said in March during an interview with AFP.

“We will stay to live and work in Russia,” he insisted at a time when a significant number of opponents and journalists left the country after the imprisonment of the Kremlin’s main adversary, Alexei Navalni.

Always modest, Muratov affirmed then that it was the opponent who deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dimitri Muratov was born in 1961 in Kuibyshev, a city on the Volga renamed Samara after the fall of the Soviet Union.

He discovered his vocation by collaborating with some local media during his studies in philology at the Kuibyshev State University.

After having worked in the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, in 1993 he participated in the founding of Novaya Gazeta, launched with the financial support of the last Soviet leader (and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1990), Mikhail Gorbachev.

Muratov, who has run the newspaper almost continuously since 1995, turned it into an exclusive scooper.

Addressing corruption and cases that implicated power, Novaya Gazeta delved into sensitive issues, including those that, since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, were unapproachable for other media, starting with the war in Chechnya.

Until today, the newspaper, which is published three times a week, continues to offer long investigative articles, deep and scathing, such as on the mercenaries of the Wagner group or the repression of homosexuals in Chechnya.

Since its inception, Novaya Gazeta has paid a high price for its work and six of its workers have been killed.

The best known case was that of Anna Politkovskaya, known for her criticism of the Kremlin’s policies in Chechnya, murdered on October 7, 2006. The masterminds of the crime have not yet been identified.

Traumatized, Muratov wanted to shut down the outlet, which he considered “dangerous for people’s lives,” Muratov told AFP in March.

But the journalists convinced him to go ahead.

The year 2009 was especially hard, with three newspaper collaborators assassinated, including a person very close to Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, kidnapped in Grozny and found dead shortly after in the neighboring Republic of Ingushetia.

Highly respected abroad, Novaya Gazeta remains a still marginal medium in Russia, where it is read by a liberal minority. At the beginning of December, it was broadcasting 99,000 copies of each issue, while its website had 18.4 million visits in November.

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Dimitri Muratov, captain of the last bastion of the free press in Russia