Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Once again Russian questions will not be answered

A few days ago there was speculation that the trial of the three men charged with the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya would be open to the public and the press. Delighted and thrilled, for a minute I could not believe what I read. Was there justice in Russia after all? Could everyone finally see and hear what has really happened to the Douma critic when she was shot on October 7 2006 in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building?

It was naive to think that. It would have been too good to be true. Today a Russian judge announced the trial of the three suspects will now be closed to the public. When the trial opened on Monday the judge had said it would be open, but Judge Yevgeny Zubov reversed his decision on Wednesday, saying jurors had refused to enter the courtroom in the presence of the media. Does that mean jurors decide how transparent a court hearing is and not a law or a lawmaker? Mrs Anna Politkovskaya’s family criticised the judge's decision: "Of course we do not like the closed trial. There is nothing wrong with having journalists there," Ms Politkovskya's son Ilya said. "I am very disappointed. I think this trial should have been open, not only because all trials should be, but because she was a public figure and the public should know the circumstances of her killing," said Karinna Moskalenko, a lawyer for Ms Politkovskaya's family (BBC). Mrs Politkovskaya was the 13th journalist to be killed in a contract-style killing in Russia during Vladimir Putin's period as president, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CNN).

The three men who went on trial on Monday are former policeman Sergey Khadzhikurbanov and two Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov. It is expected the rest of the trial will be secretive and that there won’t be too many legal and public checks and balances. A court spokesman said ‘he could not specify exactly what charges the men were facing. After a verdict will be reached this will be made public.’ Isn’t that a bit too late? Another man, a former KGB officer, also appeared before the military court. Pavel Ryaguzov is charged with abuse of power and extortion.

Meanwhile, journalists and western diplomats say Rustam Makhmudov - who is believed to have been the actual murderer - and the person or persons who ordered Mr Politkovskaya's killing remain at large. The Moscow based reporter Grigory Pasko asked openly "How can you say the investigation is complete if you have neither the killer nor the person who ordered it in the dock?"
(Sources: BBC Europe News website, CNN Archive, Intern. version, Reuters, Adfero, DirectNews)