A judge on Monday handed down sentences ranging from 12 years to life in prison to five men convicted in the shooting death of Russia’s most prominent crusading journalist.
The sentencing, however, did little to assuage the family and supporters of Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down as she was getting into the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow on Oct. 7, 2006. The men convicted in the case were contract killers, and no one has been charged with hiring them.
“I don’t feel satisfaction, I don’t feel a thing,” Ilya Politkovsky, the slain journalist’s son, said in an interview. “We will never consider the case closed unless the person or persons who ordered her killed are found and tried in court.”
Politkovskaya, 48, who earned fame and the government’s enmity for her reporting on President Vladimir Putin and the Russian war in Chechnya, was shot twice in the body and once in the head as she entered the elevator with her hands full of shopping bags. The building’s webcam recorded the fleeing killer, a shadowy figure in a baseball cap.
More than seven years and two trials later, four men from Chechnya and a former organized crime police officer were sentenced following their convictions in the case last month.
As the prisoners smiled from inside a bulletproof glass cage in a Moscow courtroom, Judge Pavel Melyokhin read a verdict saying that Politkovskaya was killed for her work “exposing human rights violations, embezzlement and abuse of power.”
He handed down life sentences to the man convicted of organizing the murder, Lom-Ali Gaytukayev, and to his nephew, Rustam Makhmudov, who pulled the trigger.
Sergei Kahdzhikurbanov, a former organized crime officer who helped Gaytukayev plot the killing, received 20 years, and Makhmudov’s younger brothers, Dzhebrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, were sentenced to 12 and 14 years, respectively, for assisting in the crime.
All five were convicted by a jury last month.
In 2009, Dzhebrail and Ibragim Makhmudov were acquitted of suspected involvement in the case; the judge then cited a lack of conclusive evidence.
Another suspect, a Moscow police officer, pleaded guilty in 2012 to charges related to allegations that he provided the murder weapon and set up police surveillance of Politkovskaya, feeding the information to the killers. He was sentenced to 11 years after agreeing to cooperate with authorities.
Politkovskaya, the daughter of a Soviet diplomat, was born in New York and held joint U.S. and Russian citizenship. She had been among the most vocal critics of Putin and his policies in restive Chechnya, where she had frequently traveled to report on the horrors of the war, including atrocities, torture and the killings and kidnappings of civilians.
Shortly after she was killed, Putin dissociated the Kremlin of any involvement in the crime, saying her “death in itself is more damaging to the current authorities both in Russia and Chechen Republic … than her activities.” Russia’s prosecutor general personally oversaw the investigation.
Politkovskaya wrote for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose deputy editor, Sergei Sokolov, complained Monday that those ultimately responsible for her death had so far escaped justice.
Sokolov said in an interview that Politkovskaya had been killed by “a whole syndicate of killers and thugs which had operated in close cooperation with law-enforcement officers and agents, and offered its deadly services to anyone willing to pay for intimidation, kidnapping or death.”
“The organizers and the murderers didn’t even know who they were killing or why,” he added.
The price for Politkovskaya’s murder was $150,000, paid to Gaytukayev by “an unestablished person,” the judge said.
The prosecution hailed the verdict as “the highest achievement of the judicial system.”
“We walked step by step with the jury, re-creating the details of Politkovskaya’s murder,” prosecutor Maria Semenenko told journalists after the verdict. “The court agreed with the jury’s guilty verdict.”
Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said the investigation will continue. “Exhaustive measures are being currently taken to establish who ordered the murder of Anna Politkovskaya,” Markin said in televised remarks.
The defendants’ lawyers said they would appeal the case and take it to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
“The whole trial was bogus and the verdict was based on nothing of substance,” Arsen Mirzayev, Ibragim Makhmudov’s lawyer said in an interview. “I don’t expect to achieve much in Strasbourg either, so the Makhmudov family has only one option left to change the situation, which is to conduct their private investigation and find the real killers.”
The father of the Makhmudov brothers, Ruslan Makhmudov, who traveled to Moscow from the Chechen city of Achkhoi-Martan, left the courtroom in a rage after the verdict was announced.
“My sons were set up,” he said in an interview. “Politkovskaya exposed crimes in Chechnya, so they found three Chechens boys, my sons, to portray as her killers, to make it look like the real thing.”
Novaya Gazeta is also continuing its own investigation into who ordered the heinous crime, Sokolov said.
“When we or the investigation establish beyond doubt who really stood behind Anna’s murder, much will depend on whether those in power show enough political will to help bring justice,” he said.