Russia was yesterday urged to find the real killers of crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya after the “total failure” of a three-month trial that saw all four suspects acquitted and freed.
A jury earlier acquitted the four men, none of whom had been charged with shooting dead the reporter, let alone ordering the apparent contract killing.
The judge in the trial ordered investigators to resume their probe into the case, which rights lawyers and activists have said has shown the impunity with which contract killers are allowed to operate in Russia.
“Examination of the investigation and prosecution of the murder of Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya ended yesterday in total failure,” the respected opposition daily Kommersant said in its front-page report.
The centrist daily Vremya Novostei added: “We need the real killer.”
Politkovskaya, who had been highly critical of Russia’s strongman and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in the lift of her Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006, after returning from a shopping trip.
“The Politkovskaya verdict tops the long history of inability of Russia’s authorities to provide safety to embattled journalists,” said Miklos Haraszti, media representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“This amounts to a practical impunity for the murder and physical assault of those covering corruption and human rights issues,” he added.
Highlighting the international interest in solving the killing of one of the few Russian reporters prepared to criticize the authorities, the US swiftly called on Russia to continue the investigation.
“We regret that her murder is remaining unsolved,” US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said. “We urge the Russians to try and find those who are responsible and bring them to justice as quickly as possible.”
A French foreign ministry spokesman said it was essential that her killers be caught as the “Russian people have a right to the truth.”
Her family also criticized the verdicts.
“I think that all four of them are linked to the murder of my mother in one way or another,” Politkovskaya’s son Ilya Politkovsky told reporters alongside his sister Vera.
Rights groups had long lamented the shortcomings of trial, which despite lasting three months failed to shed any significant light on the circumstances of the killing.
During the hearings the defense 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.
International press watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the trial had been marked by “incoherence and opacity” from the outset.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was “disheartened by the continued impunity” in the case.
“No prosecution will be complete until the triggerman and mastermind are in the dock,” the CPJ said.
In a final procedural hearing yesterday at the inconclusive trial, Judge Yevgeny Zubov ordered the prosecutors’ investigative committee to resume their probe to find “the individuals linked to the committing of this crime.”
All four suspects had been acquitted by the jury after Thursday’s hearing: Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov had been accused of driving the killer to the scene of the murder of the Kremlin critic.