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26 Nov, 2008 07:18

Politkovskaya trial: judge to be replaced?

The Prosecutor General's Office has demanded that the judge presiding over the murder trial of Anna Politkovskaya be removed. It follows a decision to reopen the hearings into the killing of the prominent journalist to the public.

A road accident has delayed the start of Wednesday’s court hearing in Moscow.  The vehicle carrying the defendants to court was involved in a crash.

However, there may be more twists and turns before the trial finally gets under way. The Prosecutor General’s Office has demanded that the presiding judge be replaced. They accuse Judge Yevgeny Zubov of bias.   

Marina Gridneva, a prosecution spokesperson, said: “The state prosecutor at the Politkovskaya murder case trial challenged the judge, pointing to an abuse of the rules of procedure.”

Lawyers of the family and the defence, however, are both against this.

“We didn’t support the appeal because we do not see any legal grounds for it,” Anna Stavitskaya, Politkovskaya family lawyer said.

The decision to reopen the trial to the public is the second such reversal in just a week.

Praising the decision, Defence lawyer Murad Musayev said “free speech and democracy have held a victory in this trial. The proceedings will be open; the press will be admitted to the courtroom.”

Musayev said the decision was reversed “because the secret has come out. The trial was initially closed, but a fraud that had taken place has been revealed, thanks to one of the jurors and thousands of journalists. So the court had no other option than to open the hearings.”

Citing case files, Musayev told journalists that an unidentified Russian politician ordered the killing of Politkovskaya.

The decision to reopen the trial comes after controversial developments in the case. The lawyers for both the defence and the victim's family wanted the hearings to be open to the media. But the judge said jurors feared for their safety, and closed the doors in one of the most notorious trials in modern Russian history.

One of the jurors, Yevgeny Kolesov, told the media that the jury had said nothing of the kind:

“All the jurors were outraged that they'd been made fools of. Everyone was discussing it. I'd prepared a statement to the judge where I said none of it was true – that we hadn't made any requests, and that I wanted to be taken off the panel as I don't want to take part in an unfair trial. Small lies lead to big lies. That's it.”

Kolesov was released from duty.

Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist from the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper was shot dead outside her apartment in Moscow on October 7, 2006.

Three men have been charged with involvement in the murder: a former police official Sergey Khadzhikurbanov and Chechen brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov.  

Another suspect, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, has been accused of extortion and abuse of power after revealing details of Politkovskaya's whereabouts.

However, the main suspect remains at large. The eldest of the Makhmudov brothers, 34-year-old Rustam, is suspected by police of actually pulling the trigger. An international arrest warrant for his arrest has been issued.

The identity of the person who ordered the killing remains unknown, though the murder is thought to be related to Anna Politkovskaya's work.

The pioneering journalist was renowned for her investigative articles which criticised the government, the security services and Russia's policy in Chechnya.

Politkovskaya judge under scrutiny by Supreme Court

Politkovskaya murder jury chosen