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Independent Russian newspaper in the running for Nobel Peace Prize

One of Russia’s few remaining independent newspapers, Novaya Gazeta, is believed to have been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Over the twenty years of its operation, the newspaper — known for its investigative reports on human rights abuses and corruption — has come under increasing government pressure, been the target of cyber attacks and had six of its journalists killed, the highest number for a single Russian newspaper.

Other contenders believed to be in the running for the Peace Prize include Pope Francis and fugitive former security contractor Edward Snowden.

Speaking in 2014 when Novaya Gazeta was also in contention for the prize, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Dmitry Muradov said it was heartening to be nominated.

“This is obviously, not even the prize itself, but the fact that somebody, and we don’t know who, I don’t know who, somebody nominated us is very important for us because we are absolutely certain that in the 21st century the management of peace should win over the management of war,” he said, adding that the newspaper did not actively seek such recognition.

“Does it give me goosebumps? No, not goosebumps. But the fact that we are on the same list, not only with people you mentioned (Edward Snowden, Pope Francis) – I have never met them in person – the fact that somebody nominated us for that prize with a very rich history, for us, for the parents of those people who died, for their relatives, this is absolutely important,” he said.

Media organisations in Russia are under tight state control and Moscow has been consolidating its grip on print media and the Internet, where some dissenting opinions can still be expressed. Many media outlets have been shut down, others changing owners and with them, editorial policy.

The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) which has selected Novaya Gazeta as one of its top Peace Prize tips says Russia’s state security apparatus has severely restricted public expression.

An uprising by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine has seen Russian TV stations and newspapers used as a tool for the Kremlin to promote its view of the conflict. As a result, many Russians view the independent media as traitors.

“Many our colleagues, our authors are told that they are national traitors, there are films being made about them. But these people just really think that peace is patriotism. And war is not patriotism. This is not a popular point of view, but we stick to it,” said Muradov.

He said that even receiving the Nobel Peace Prize may be considered a treacherous act by Russians.

“Whether this is going to be received well in my motherland is a very big question. Will we be told that we are traitors because we are supporting peace? Quite possibly so. We are not afraid of it, award it to us,” he said.

Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006, her killing drawing attention to the risks faced by Russians who challenge the authorities. She was best known for her dogged reporting on human rights violations in the North Caucasus province of Chechnya.

Five men were convicted of her murder in May 2014, but rights activists and relatives of Politkovskaya say that justice will not be done until those who ordered her contract-style killing are identified and convicted. Kremlin critics say they doubt that will ever happen because of suspicions the trail could lead too close to the government.

Novaya Gazeta was established more than 20 years ago with the help of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who used some of the money he received for winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 to buy computers. The paper’s independent editorial policy is maintained by its fragmented ownership. Gorbachev has a ten percent share, while 39 percent is owned by media tycoon Alexander Lebedev, and 51 percent by the Novaya Gazeta staff.

Lebedev is unusual amongst wealthy Russian businessmen and oligarchs in his criticism of the Kremlin, not something he recommends.

“I won’t recommend anybody who is doing business here, especially if you are a foreigner but even to the locals, do not keep it together, business with, say, opposition newspaper. Or any activities which might be looked from the “siloviki” position as being oppositionary, or dissident et cetera,” he told Reuters in 2014, referring to the clan of nationalist, ex-military and security service officers fighting to maintain a big state role in the Russian economy.

The 2015 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday (October 9).