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Russia

Trial for murdered journalist Politkovskaya

Seven years after the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, five men go on trial again. Observers doubt that the case will be cleared up this time either.

Members of Anna Politkovskaya's family accuse those in power of having no interest in investigating the journalist's murder. Her son Ilya told the newspaper "Noviye Izvestia" that the investigations into the background to the murder had been "weak." He claimed that the trial, which began on Wednesday (24.07.2013), was illegitimate: "The judge chose the members of the jury without consulting us or our lawyers," he said, which violated the family's rights.

Anna Politkovskaya was a sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin. Her death in October 2006 caused international outrage. She was best known for her reports on the war in Chechnya, where Islamists are fighting for an "emirate" independent of Moscow and criminal gangs repeatedly carry out attacks. Reporters who conduct research in the North Caucasus are often victims of violent crimes.

Alleged killer in court again

Vera and Ilya 
REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Politkovskaya's children Vera and Ilya feel their rights have been violated

The alleged killer, Rustam Makhmudov, is now facing trial in Moscow, accused of having shot Politkovskaya in the stairway of her apartment block. With him in the dock are his brothers Ibragim and Dzabrail, a former policeman Sergei Khadshikurbanov, and alleged murder organized Lom-Ali Gaitukayev. The five were acquitted in an earlier trial in 2009 for lack of evidence, but Russia's Supreme Court partly quashed that verdict and ordered a new trial.

In December 2012, Dmitri Pavlyuchenkov - another former policeman - was sentenced to 11 years in prison after he admitted having been paid to provide the murder weapon. Ignoring the protests of Politkoskaya's family, the justice system reached a deal with Pavlyuchenkov, offering him a lighter sentence in exchange for his confession.

Skeptical human rights activists

Ludmila Alexeyeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, does not believe that this trial will reveal who was really behind the murder. "Pavlyuchenkov could have said who had given him his orders," she told DW, "but he took his punishment and decided not to name names." Alexeyeva believes he would have taken a serious risk if he had done so.

Alexeyeva
Photo: DW/Jegor Winigradow

Alexeyeva beleves that the court will try to protect the people behind the killing

Alexeyeva is certain that the Russian authorities want to keep those names under wraps: "The undignified way in which the trial is being held - including the choice of the jury members - seems to suggest that whoever ordered the murder is very close to those in power," she said.

Impeded investigation?

Oleg Orlov, head of the human rights center Memorial, agreed that the trial is unlikely to reveal who ordered the killing. "The case can't be regarded as having been cleared up without that name," he told DW.

He said the authorities have not followed up all the leads, and they had even impeded some possible directions for the investigations.

"It's clear that the investigators do not really want to look for whoever is behind the crime," he argued - and said it's not likely that that person is ever likely to be named as long as the current regime is in power.

Hope for new information

Sergei Sokolov, editor of "Novaya Gazeta" - the paper for which Politkovskaya worked - said he hopes that the trial will help reveal more about the murder. "I'll be watching the trial closely," he said, "and I won't let us be led by the nose, as unfortunately sometimes happens in Russia."

He's also critical of the fact that Politkovskaya's family was not involved in choosing the jury: "They've waited seven years for this trial, they've supported the investigation, and now they've been left outside the door."

DW.DE