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Jury acquits all accused in Politkovskaya murder trial

A Russian jury has acquitted all three of those accused in connection with the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Critics say the trial failed to focus on those who actually planned and carried out her murder.


AFP - A Moscow jury on Thursday acquitted all the accused in the trial over the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya after three months of hearings that failed to shed light on the crime.

None of the four accused had been charged with pulling the trigger or being the mastermind of the 2006 killing of the investigative reporter who was highly critical of Russia's strongman and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"They have neither found the person who ordered the killing, the organisers nor the people who committed the crime," said the Politkovskaya family's lawyer, Karinna Moskalenko, after the verdicts were announced.

State prosecutor Yulia Safina said the prosecution planned to go to the court of appeal to "complain about the infringements that took place in the course of the court's examination of the case."

The acquittal verdicts were read out at the packed courthouse in central Moscow by the head of the jury, an AFP correspondent said. Relatives of the accused cried of "Bravo, well done!" and "Thank you!"

By contrast, Politkovskaya's son and daughter listened to the verdicts in silence.

"Justice has been done," said defence lawyer Murad Mussayev. "The jury showed their principles and there has been an honest verdict."

The acquitted were Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, who had been accused of driving the killer to the scene of the murder of the Kremlin critic.

A third defendant acquitted was Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police investigator, who had been charged with providing logistical assistance for the murder.

Also acquitted was Pavel Ryaguzov, a former agent of the FSB security service who was not directly accused of being part of the murder but of extortion in another aspect of the case.

Court press secretary Alexander Minchanovsky said the accused had already been freed inside the court.

International press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders, RSF) said the trial had been marked by "incoherence and opacity" from the outset.

"This decision is the consequence of an incomplete enquiry that was handed over prematurely to the courts. It is impossible to know who ordered this crime and why. Everything is still to do," it said in a statement.

Politkovskaya was shot dead in the lift of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006 in an apparent contract killing after returning from a shopping trip to a Moscow store.

She had been critical of the actions of then-president Putin in war-torn Chechnya, making numerous trips to the ravaged republic to uncover human rights abuses.

The journalist had written dozens of articles and a book called "Putin's Russia" accusing the Russian strongman of using the Chechen conflict to strangle democracy in the country.

During the hearings the defence team pointed out that the suspects' DNA had not been found on the weapon and that phone calls made by the accused at the time did not prove their presence at the murder scene.

Mussayev warned there was a "99 percent chance that this verdict will be annulled by the supreme court. We hope that this will not happen but we are prepared for a new trial."

Politkovksaya's Novaya Gazeta newspaper was one of the few media outlets to voice criticism of the Kremlin. Her death was not the only time the publication has seen one of its journalists attacked.

Last month a young journalist working as an intern on the paper, Anastasia Baburova, was gunned down in central Moscow as she emerged from a news conference with a prominent rights lawyer.

"I want to say that nothing has been closed (with the verdict) and the main investigation still lies ahead," the newspaper's chief editor Dmitry Muratov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Putin had described Politkovskaya's murder as an "unacceptable crime that cannot go unpunished" but also commented that her "ability to influence political life in Russia was extremely insignificant."

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