WASHINGTON, March 8 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian investigative journalist and vocal Kremlin critic was honored Friday by US Secretary of State John Kerry, citing her “bold” and “courageous” reporting.
Elena Milashina, who covers the North Caucasus for the opposition-minded Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and eight other women from around the globe received the US secretary of state’s International Women of Courage Award on International Women’s Day.
“Regarded as one of the most experienced and influential investigative journalists in Russia, Elena Milashina has spent her career shining light on events others shy away from,” Kerry said at Friday’s ceremony, tripping slightly over the journalist’s last name.
Milashina’s reporting has included investigative work on drug-trafficking, counterterrorism operations, kidnappings and the murder of journalists, including the 2006 slaying of fellow Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
Politkovskaya, who also covered the North Caucasus, was gunned down in the elevator of her apartment building in central Moscow.
Milashina and her colleagues at Novaya Gazeta say she was assaulted in 2006 while reporting from Beslan, site of the 2004 school siege by terrorists that left more than 300 hostages dead, including more than 180 children. Her reporting has been highly critical of the Russian government’s handling of the hostage crisis and its aftermath.
Milashina and a friend were also assaulted outside Moscow last year, an attack that prompted the US State Department to express its concern. Local authorities investigating the assault said it was a mugging and unrelated to her work as a journalist.
“She has received overt and thinly veiled threats from her own government, private citizens, and corporations, and she bears the scars of both physical and verbal attacks,” Kerry said before presenting the award to Milashina in the State Department’s Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington.
Milashina became the second Russian ever to be presented with the award, which was established in 2007 to recognize “women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk,” according to the State Department’s official description of the honor.
Veronika Marchenko, head of a Russian nongovernmental organization (NGO) that advocates for soldiers subject to abuses in the Russian armed forces, received the award from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009.
This year’s ceremony came amid heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over a range of issues, including the US Magnitsky Act imposing sanctions on Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses and a subsequent Russian law banning Americans from adopting Russian children. Russia also introduced a law in January banning politically oriented NGOs from accepting financing from US organizations.
Milashina told RIA Novosti this week that she expects critics in Russia to accuse her of “scavenging like a jackal” for foreign money by accepting the award, echoing a metaphor used by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007 to describe the fundraising techniques of Russia’s liberal opposition.
“First I’d like to note that there is no monetary component to this award, so I’m not scavenging like a jackal for money,” Milashina said. “Secondly, I love America and have been here many times. But I nonetheless love Russia more.”
In addition to Milashina, this year’s recipients included representatives of Afghanistan, China, Honduras, India, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria and Vietnam. US First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the ceremony prior to the presentation of the awards.
Egyptian activist Samira Ibrahim had been named to receive an award at Friday’s ceremony, but on Thursday the State Department decided to postpone honoring her after reports emerged this week that several anti-Semitic and pro-terrorism comments had been posted to her Twitter account.
Ibrahim claimed the posts were made by individuals who had hacked her Twitter account, but State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that she would not receive the award until the origin of the Tweets had been clarified.