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Prosecutor Demands Guilty Verdict in Politkovskaya Murder Trial

Over two years after Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, the trial is drawing to a close in Moscow. But the crime against the Kremlin critic has not been cleared up and many questions remain unanswered.

A man holds a photo of slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya

Politkovskaya was famous for her investigative reporting on human rights abuses and corruption in Chechnya

The state prosecutor has called for a guilty verdict for the suspects accused of helping murder Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

"We are convinced that the people sitting on the dock are guilty in relation to the execution of the murder of Politkovskaya," state prosecutor Julia Safina said in her closing arguments, according to Interfax news agency.

Prosecutors are not accusing the defendants with directly murdering the journalist, but rather aiding and abetting the actual killer, who is on the run. The Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov are charged with helping the killer find Politkovskaya. Former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov is charged with providing technical help. Pavel Ryaguzov, a former FSB security service agent, is suspected of providing Politkovskaya's home address to the killer.

All have pleaded not guilty. A defense lawyer for the accused has suggested that more suspects should be on trial.

Politkovskaya was critical of Russia's policies and human rights abuses during the war in Chechnya, often attacking what she saw as Russia surrendering its democratic freedoms under former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Politkovskaya was shot dead outside her home in Moscow in October 2006.

Trial marked by repeated inconsistencies

The closing arguments in the case, which is being heard in a Moscow military court, were made behind closed doors on Monday, Feb. 16. The judges at the last minute ordered the public, journalists and relatives from the court so that the prosecution could cite from classified documents.

A view of the defendants' cage during the Politkovskaya murder trial

The defendants sit in a cage during the trial

Those secret documents do not actually relate to the Politkovskaya killing, but to a parallel trial for the kidnapping of a businessman in 2002, in which one of the defendants is also accused.

Repeated breakdowns and inconsistencies have marked the trial, which began in October 2008. The prosecution initially said one of the defendants played no part in the murder, but he is now accused of helping in the killing.

Colleagues and friends of Politkovskaya have repeatedly complained about the standard of the investigation, with one claiming that video evidence of the crime scene had disappeared. A lawyer for Politkovskaya's family said the men on trial are just pawns.

"The whole thing has been organized at a high level, not at the level of the defendants," lawyer Karina Moskalenko said. She said she did not believe the Makhmudov brothers had their own reasons to kill Politkovskaya.

"I have drawn my own conclusion that the boys have been used by someone," Moskalenko said. "The question is whether they knew or not."

Did authorities play a role?

Karina Moskalenko

Moskalenko is a well-known human rights lawyer

The main suspect in the killing is a third Makhmudov brother, Rustam, who is currently on the run. Many suspect the person who originally gave the order for the professional hit man-style killing is connected to Russian security services. But prosecutors have never identified who ordered the killing.

Putin has rejected suggestions in the West that the Kremlin could have been behind Politkovskaya's murder. Russian officials said the killing was an attempt to discredit the Kremlin.

But Moskalenko implied authorities played a role in the crime.

"Who could hate Anna (Politkovskaya) for her articles?" she said. "Those who are responsible for what was happening in Chechnya."

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