Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov on Wednesday denied any role in the slaying of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in an apparent contract killing last Saturday.
The journalist had tirelessly exposed human rights abuses in Russia's conflict-scarred province of Chechnya, including alleged torture, abductions and murder she blamed on Kadyrov's forces.
"I don't kill women and never have. Women should be loved; for us Chechens, a woman is sacred," he said in comments televised on NTV television. "I think that those who ordered Anna Politkovskaya's murder wanted to blacken me."
Politkovskaya, 48, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and the war in Chechnya, was found shot dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on Saturday.
Her murder has sparked worldwide condemnation and concern about the state of media freedom in Russia.
Politkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, has suggested the killing could either have been the work of Kadyrov or have been aimed at discrediting him.
Yesterday the newspaper published an unfinished article on torture in Chechnya that she was working on when she was killed.
The article, accompanied by graphic images taken from a video, described the alleged torture by Kremlin-backed Chechen security services of suspects branded terrorists. The video was apparently shot by the people committing the torture, and four pictures reproduced in the paper were accompanied by a Russian translation of the torturers' expletive-filled conversation in Chechen about how hard it was to kill the victims.
"Are we fighting legally against lawlessness?" Politkovskaya asked in the story in Novaya Gazeta. "Or are we thrashing them with our own lawlessness?"
The story included written testimony from a Chechen who was extradited from Ukraine to a Chechen government office in Grozny, where he was allegedly hung by his hands and feet from a pole and beaten, subjected to electric shock and suffocated with a bag over his head to force him to confess to killings he said he did not commit.
He made the confession to journalists, whom he told -- on his interrogators' orders -- that his injuries were sustained during an escape attempt.
"When prosecutors and judges work not for the law and punishment of the guilty," Politkovskaya wrote, "but on political orders and in pursuit of anti-terrorist aims that are pleasing to the Kremlin, then criminal cases multiply like hot cakes."
Some colleagues thought her killing could have been connected with the story; she had told Radio Liberty last week that she was working on a story on torture, and that she was serving as a witness in criminal investigations into allegations of torture in Chechnya.
But others thought it could have been connected to any number of her stories, which focused on military and security services' abuse of civilians, the circumstances surrounding the 2002 Moscow theater siege and the 2004 Beslan school tragedy, and other issues that were sensitive to the government.