Acquittals in slaying of Russian journalist overturned
Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the acquittal of three men charged as accessories in the assassination of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
The court ordered a new trial for two Chechen brothers and a former police officer who had been declared innocent by a jury in February of involvement as lookouts and couriers. The trial will open a new chapter in a politically freighted mystery that has painted a chilling picture of bungled police work, a faltering judicial system and public indifference.
Politkovskaya was gunned down in October 2006 as she carried groceries home from the store. Although the three low-level suspects were eventually brought before a jury with considerable publicity, investigators still haven’t arrested anybody suspected of killing the reporter or ordering her death.
Disgusted by what they described as halfhearted efforts to investigate the crime, many of Politkovskaya’s supporters had greeted the acquittal with grim acceptance. The government was to blame, they said, because prosecutors had made a poor case.
News of the high court decision was met with similar weariness.
“I think the authorities finally came to the conclusion that it looks very improper that nobody ended up behind bars on such a big case,” said Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor at Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked. “We are not worrying so much about this decision right now, because we are mostly interested in who ordered the killing and carried it out.”
Sokolov, who headed his own investigation of Politkovskaya’s death, has accused the government of tampering with and suppressing evidence, and possibly helping the killer to escape.
“Even if these people are tried again and land in prison, in no way will it mean the criminal case is solved,” he said.
Murad Musayev, lawyer for Dzhabrail Makhmudov, the younger Chechen brother, agreed. He has striven to portray his client as a scapegoat.
“The state wants to show the world that the case is solved. But they don’t have a murderer, and they don’t have those who ordered the killing,” he said. “They tried to accuse people who have nothing to do with the case and thus proclaim it closed.”
The brothers have returned to their family home in Chechnya, Musayev said, but are eager to return to Moscow and face another jury trial.
Politkovskaya’s relentless reporting had earned her the enmity of many powerful people in Moscow and in Chechnya, where she extensively chronicled human rights abuses and official corruption. Her slaying, which elicited a muted response among Russia’s elite, drew a worldwide outcry and eventually became a symbol of a string of unsolved attacks on those who dare to criticize the government.
She was trailed by intelligence agents toward the end of her life, Sokolov said.
Her family has filed a claim at the European Court of Human Rights, accusing the Russian government of failing to protect her life despite numerous death threats.
Karina Moskalenko, a lawyer who represents the family, said that only prosecutors will benefit from the high court decision. Her clients would have preferred to see the government continue to investigate, and to keep the case out of court until authorities had enough evidence to bring the guilty to justice, she said.
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