Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Secrecy fears as Anna Politkovskaya murder trial opens

SEARCH FOR JUSTICEPolitkovskaya, a crusading newspaper journalist, was shot dead outside her home in Moscow in 2006 in an apparent contract killing


A trial into the killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya opens today in a military court in Moscow, with the Kremlin critic’s supporters fearing it will shed little light on the case.

Despite protests from Politkovskaya’s relatives, the long-awaited trial is likely to be held behind closed doors because one of the defendants, Pavel Ryaguzov, is an agent with the Federal Security Service, the former KGB.

Ryaguzov is suspected of having provided Politkovskaya’s home address to her killers and has been charged with abuse of office. Three other defendants including a former police investigator will also be tried for the killing.

But the killer and whoever ordered her contract murder remain at large.

“We will demand that the trial be open. My mother was a journalist and I think it’s impossible to have ... a closed trial,” Ilya Politkovsky, the slain journalist’s son, said, adding that getting an open trial was “improbable.”

Politkovskaya, a crusading newspaper journalist and one of the few independent voices in Russia’s tightly-controlled media world, was shot dead outside her home in Moscow in October 2006 in an apparent contract killing.

She wrote her investigative reports for the bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Many of her stories concerned human rights abuses carried out by Russian troops and pro-Moscow militias in the war-ravaged province of Chechnya.

The alleged killer, Rustam Makhmudov, has never been found and is said by investigators to have fled the country. The person who ordered the contract killing has also never been identified and no motive has so far been mentioned.

“I don’t have any hope that the name of the person who ordered the killing will be revealed ... The people who will be tried don’t have direct contact with him, it’s a criminal group that did this for the money,” Politkovsky said.

The four men who face trial are: Ryaguzov, former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and two Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, who are accused of following the journalist in the weeks before her killing.

“Based on experience we know that this type of case is never resolved in our country. But it’s still positive that at least a part of the case has gone to court this time,” said Boris Tymoshenko of the Glasnost Defense Foundation.

Tymoshenko said there was “an absence of political will” to solve the case.

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

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