Politkovskaya murder trial opens

Two Chechen brothers and one Russian former policeman face trial for alleged involvement in the 2006 slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Yet, the main suspects are still at large and it is still not clear who ordered the killing.


Three suspects are going on trial on Nov. 17 for the murder of Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya, whose brave coverage of the conflict in Chechnya and human rights abuses was admired well beyond Russian borders.


Russian authorities maintain that the killer is still at large and that the police have not found those who ordered the slaying.


Politkovskaya, a staunch critic of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- who was then Russia's president -- was shot dead in the lift to her Moscow flat in October 2006. Her killing caused many to decry an erosion of civil liberties in Russia. Two Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, are charged with conducting surveillance on Politkovskaya and a former police officer, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, is accused of giving them technical assistance. All three say they are innocent.


The trial started at Moscow's main military court behind closed doors on Oct. 15 despite requests from lawyers representing the accused and the family of the victim to open the trial to public scrutiny. It was adjourned until Nov. 17 to give the court time to assemble a jury.


 In a victory for Politkovskaya’s lawyers and supporters, the judge of the Russian military court conducting the trial ruled Monday that the high-profile case would be held in open court.


 But Judge Yevgeny Zubov warned that he would “close the trial if there is pressure on the jurors.”


Before the trial, Anna Stavitskaya, a lawyer representing the interests of Politkovskaya's family, said she had argued for the trial to be held in public. "We do not see any justification for the trial to be closed," she said.


Critics had warned that the Russian authorities did not want this highly-political trial to be public because it involves police and secret service personnel. Pavel Ryaguzov, an officer in the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s post-KGB spy agency, was also charged in the case. Today, he is no longer a suspect but will appear in court.


Absentees in the dock


Politkovskaya's scathing reports detailing human rights abuses in Russia's turbulent Chechnya region angered the Kremlin. The Novaya Gazeta special correspondent took great risks entering war zones and received many death threats in Moscow.


Many believe Politkovskaya's death was a contract killing. Outside the court on Oct. 15, Politkovskaya’s son told reporters of his "hope that the main people who carried out this crime, and those who ordered it, will be found".


The man suspected of being the hitman who killed Politkovskaya, Rustam Makhmudov, so far has eluded arrest. The two Chechens in the dock are his brothers. However, critics have slammed the investigation that led to their arrest, saying that the authorities had failed to reveal who had ordered the killing.

A poisoned lawyer?

The trial is hardly expected to go ahead smoothly. Already, on Oct. 15, human rights lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, one of the lawyers representing Politkovskaya’s family, missed the preliminary hearing because she and her family were being examined for mercury poisoning in France.


Two days before the hearing, Moskalenko said she found a substance resembling mercury in her car. In an interview with FRANCE 24, she explained that the discovery prevented her from attending the hearing in Moscow.


The French investigation later concluded that the substance in the lawyer’s car was not very toxic. Moskalenko travels frequently to Strasbourg because of her work with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning