11/18/2008, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Open trial for defendants in Politkovskaya murder case

by Maria Anikina
Tens of foreign and local journalists and ordinary Russian citizens want to follow the trial. The victim’s son, Ilya, complains the real culprits are not standing trial. Everyone suspects Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, but he has never been interrogated for the case.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The three men charged with the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya will be tried in open court, a Moscow military judge ruled on Monday. The court is expected to select a jury for the trial today.

The decision is a victory for the lawyers representing both the accused and the Politkovskaya family. However, whilst defence lawyer believed the trial would be closed “because there were [state] secret materials,” the Politkovskaya family lawyer Anna Stavickaya insisted on open hearings from the very beginning.

Two Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, and a former policeman, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, stand accused in the assassination of Ms Politkovskaya, who was shot in front of her flat. Another Makhmudov brother, Rustam, thought to be the leader of the group, fled abroad. A member of Russia’s secret police, Pavel Ryaguzov, was initially charged in connection with the murder but later saw the charges dropped. He remains in custody waiting for trial for abuse of office.

The newspaper woman was known for unwavering opposition to Vladimir Putin and Russia’s military. When she was killed she was gathering eyewitness accounts of human rights violations in Chechnya. Many suspect Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s president and Putin’s close friend, of involvement in the assassination.

After the murder Kadyrov told journalists not to try to find any “Chechnya trace” in the case, but his name has popped up several times during preliminary hearings and lawyers for the murdered journalists want to call him to the stand. It is not clear whether this will happen or not.

The “[i]nterrogation [of the Chechen leader] has great significance for this case,” said Karina Moskalenko, another Politkovskaya family attorney. “The main disadvantage of the investigation is that the main actors in the crime, those who funded and those who ordered it, have not been identified.”

According to Anna Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya, the three men on trial are not the real culprits. “These people are just small players.” They are a “small part of those who were interested in my mother’s murder”, he said.

Still Russians are showing great interest in the court case. Natalia, from Saint-Petersburg, said she read all of Ms Politkovskaya’s articles and now wants to closely follow the trial on radio.

For Potemkina, from Moscow, the journalist’s murder was a “turning point”.

“I would have given my life for her,” she told AsiaNews.

Many are concerned that the trial might eventually be held in camera. But in the meantime though, journalists have been admitted.

Aleksei Simonov, head of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, and Vladimir Lukin, head of Russia’s Human Rights Commission, requested an open trial.

About 40 correspondents, representatives of various news agencies, and TV channels from Canada, Spain and other countries are present during the hearings.

Military Judge Colonel Zubov warned that the trial could still be held in a closed court “if jury members are reported to come under pressure.”

In the meantime Politkovskaya family lawyer Karina Moskalenko has called for a broader preliminary investigation.

“We want to see all those involved in the defendants’ cage, but at the moment the main suspects are not in the courtroom,” she said.

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