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Politkovskaya trial to continue behind closed doors

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-19

Four men charged in connection with the killing of outspoken Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya entered not guilty pleas at their trial, which will be held behind closed doors, to the frustration of the victim's family and lawyers.

The trial of four men charged over the 2006 murder of outspoken Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya will be held behind closed doors, a judge ruled Wednesday, infuriating her family and lawyers.

"This trial will continue as a closed trial," Judge Yevgeny Zubov, who is presiding over the case in a Moscow military court, said at a trial hearing attended by defendants, lawyers and journalists but with no jury present.

"This is considering the security of the participants in the trial, that of their relatives and their loved ones," Zubov said, adding that jury members had said they were too scared to be in the courtroom in front of journalists.

Zubov had said at the opening of the trial on Monday that it should be open.

The ruling sparked heated scenes as lawyers for both Politkovskaya's family and defendants argued there were no grounds for closing the trial and said the decision would harm Russia's image abroad.

"I am very disappointed," a lawyer for Politkovskaya's family, Karinna Moskalenko, who is also a leading human rights advocate, told AFP as court officials asked reporters to leave the building.

"I think this trial should have been open, not only because all trials should be, but because she was a public figure and the public should know the circumstances of her killing."

Politkovskaya, who was deeply critical of the Kremlin's actions in war-torn Chechnya, was shot dead outside her Moscow home on October 7, 2006 in an apparent contract killing.

The defendants are two Chechen brothers accused of monitoring Politkvoskaya's movements before her shooting, a former police officer and a former member of the Federal Security Service, the ex-KGB.

Politkovskaya's supporters criticised the proceedings even before they started, pointing out the actual alleged killer was still on the loose and whoever ordered the shooting had never been identified.

Outside the courtroom, the victim's son, Ilya Politkovsky, said: "Of course we do not like the closed trial.... It's wrong. There is nothing wrong with having journalists there." His sister Vera nodded in agreement.

A lawyer for one of the Chechen defendants also criticised the decision, alleging prosecutors who had pushed for a trial behind closed doors were seeking to hide information from the public.

"They wanted to close the trial from the beginning. They did not want the public to know," said Murad Musayev, who represents Dzhabrail Makhmudov, one of two brothers accused of following Politkovskaya.

Makhmudov and his brother Ibragim are on trial along with Pavel Ryaguzov who is accused of passing Politkovskaya's address to the killers, and former police investigator Sergei Khadzhikurbanov.

The siblings are brothers of Rustam Makhmudov, said by investigators to have pulled the trigger. He has never been found and is believed to have fled the country.

Politkovskaya, aged 48 when she died, was an award-winning writer of books and articles for the bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta that fiercely criticised then-president Vladimir Putin for abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya.

"This is a shameful decision, a behind-the-scenes, secret decision that does not allow the public to know how it was taken," Dmitry Muratov, Politkovskaya's editor at Novaya Gazeta, told Echo of Moscow radio station after the ruling.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media freedoms organisation, ranks Russia as the third deadliest country in the world for journalists after Iraq and Algeria, with 49 journalists killed since 1992.

"Everyone was surprised and happy when the judge said the trial would be open on Monday. But few observers really believed it was going to happen," said Boris Tymoshenko from the Glasnost Defence Foundation in Moscow.

"There is material there about security service officers who are involved in the case. Clearly there's no desire for their activities to be known."

Date created : 2008-11-19