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19 Nov, 2008 16:09

Politkovskaya accused plead not guilty in closed door trial

The defendants in the Anna Politkovskaya murder trial have asserted their innocence in the courtroom. The hearings have been closed to the media at the jury's request. It comes just two days after the court ruled they would be open to the public.

Chief Judge Evgeny Zubov explained the decision to hold the trial behind closed doors. He said the jurors were afraid to enter the courtroom in the presence of the mass media. This invited criticism on the part of lawyers on both sides.

The family of the murdered journalist and the defendants insisted on an open trial. Politkovskaya's relatives say it would be more transparent and likely to reveal not just who carried out the killing, but who ordered it, when the investigative journalist was shot in October 2006.

Defence lawyer Murad Musaev told journalists it would uncover flaws in the prosecutors’ work.

“The prosecutors don't want the truth about that sham of an investigation to be known by the wider world,” he said. “The crime has not been investigated. Somebody simply wants to take credit for solving a high-profile case.”

Of the four men on trial, three are accused of staging the hit: Sergey Khadzhikurbanov and brothers Ibragim and Rustam Makhmudov, though the latter, the man who allegedly pulled the trigger, is believed to be in hiding in Western Europe. Charges against him have been separated into a special case and he has been placed on an international wanted list. Investigation of his suspected role in the offence still continues.

A fourth man, security services officer Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, allegedly supplied them with information about their target.

Lawyer Murad Mussayev said all the defendants had asserted their innocence in the courtroom. He also said they had stated their readiness to give any necessary evidence and to conceal nothing.
The identity of the person who ordered the killing is unknown, though the murder is thought to be related to Anna Politkovskaya's work. The journalist was renowned for her investigative articles which criticised the government, the security services and Russia's policy in Chechnya.
Although Politkovskaya's lawyers say it's illegal for a jury to make demands over the media presence during the case, they still retain hope of a favourable outcome.
“The justice system must be fair,” said Karina Moskalenko, Anna Polikvoskaya's family lawyer. “Even if the trial is not open, but the procedures are followed, the trial may yet be fair, though the closing of it is a bad omen.”

Representatives of the plaintiffs did not take the floor in this phase of the trial. According to one of them, Karina Moskalenko, declaration of evidence by the prosecution is due to begin on Thursday.
With no main suspect present, no contractor, and with both the defendants and the plaintiffs expressing doubts about the integrity of the legal process, some analysts believe the trial is unlikely to answer all the questions.

Meanwhile, Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor-in-chief said the paper is going to publish its own investigation into the case.

“From what I understand, the jury initiated a request to hold the court hearings behind closed doors. We can only regret such a request. We respect the jury and can’t challenge their decision. But Novaya Gazeta has chosen to make public its own investigation because we consider certain circumstances which arouse in the course of the investigation, to be of crucial public importance – people need to know what is going on,” said Sergey Sokolov.

Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment on October 7, 2006.

She earned international recognition for her sharp criticism of the Kremlin and human rights abuses in war-torn Chechnya.