Chances of finding Politkovskaya killers fade

Three years after Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, her killers are still at large. A fresh inquiry has been ordered, but Politkovskaya’s family say the chances of finding those responsible are fading.

To mark the anniversary of Politkovskaya's killing, several hundreds have gathered in central Moscow for a commemorative rally.

Since that dark afternoon three years ago, Anna's children have learned how to live without their mother. Her son has hurled himself into work. Her daughter has become a mother herself. They are still campaigning for a fair trial, but quite aware that time is playing against them.

“Our family is starting to lose hope that all those involved in this crime will be found and brought to justice,” says Vera Politkovskaya, daughter of Anna Politkovskaya. “Time is passing by and, with it, our chances of finding those responsible.”

The men charged with assisting Politkovskaya's killers are about the same age as her children. The Makhmudov brothers have already stood trial and been found not guilty by a jury. They're about to face the same charges again after higher courts ordered a new hearing and launched an additional probe into the murder. But for Politkovskaya's family and friends this is not good enough.

“Even if a new trial delivers a guilty verdict based on the same charges and the same evidence as in the first trial – of course we won’t be satisfied,” says Ilya Politkovsky, son of Anna Politkovskaya.

“None of us could be satisfied until not only the executioners, but also the masterminds of this crime are in the dock,” says Sergey Sokolov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked. Earlier he said that the renewed investigation into the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya now involves new suspects.

Yet it's the masterminds who've yet to be identified. This was one of many question-marks in the investigation that many, including Politkovskaya’s family, criticized as flawed. A charge the chief investigator refuses to accept.

A prosecutor leaves the site of journalist Anna Politkovskaya's murder in Moscow, 07 October 2006 (AFP Photo)

“The not-guilty verdict in the first trial was a result of several factors. Jury trials in Russia are a relatively new institution that cannot always provide for the isolation of jurors – so they are not prevented from contacts with defendants’ friends and family,” Petros Gariyan, senior investigator in Politkovskaya’s case said on 12 March.

In the office of Novaya Gazeta where Anna Politkovskaya worked as a special correspondent, her desk still stands empty. Since Politkovskaya's murder, two more of the newspaper's contributors have been killed. As a result, the newspaper has consciously curtailed its coverage of the North Caucuses.

“We will be following news in Chechnya but we no longer want to have reporters on the ground. We don’t want to risk their lives,” says Sergei Sokolov.

Yet, it doesn’t mean that Russian journalists no longer have a taste for risky stories. Elena is 22. She also works for Novaya Gazeta. It was Politkovskaya’s coverage of Chechnya that inspired her to become a journalist.

“We could talk a lot about what a great writer she was, but for me her most striking quality was that she was never ignorant. She always took human suffering close to her heart,” says Elena Kostyuchenko, Novaya Gazeta reporter.

While Politkovskaya was often the last hope for those who lost faith in justice, it's now her own family struggling to sustain their trust in the law.

It’s no secret that some of Anna Politkovskaya’s critical stories were not appreciated by the Russian authorities. And while there is still a question as to whether this was a reason behind her murder, her family and friends say it’s the reason why her death should be fully investigated and accounted for.