Jury acquits three in Politkovskaya murder trial

Friday, February 20, 2009 File:Anna Politkovskaya byZelenskaya.jpg

Politkovskaya in 2004.
Image: Tatyana Zelenskaya.
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

On Thursday three individuals accused of involvement in the October 2006 killing of journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya were acquitted by a 12-person Russian jury. Not present for the trial nor among the defendants was Rustam Makhmudov, the accused trigger man, suspected to be hiding out abroad.

Makhmudov's two brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, were accused of acting as accomplices in the murder. Former police officer with the Moscow Directorate for Combating Organized Crime Sergei Khadzhikurbanov was the final defendant in the trial, charged with engaging the Makhmudov brothers for the contract-style killing and providing the pistol with silencer used.

Pavel Ryaguzov, a former FSB agent, was a suspect in a separate and unrelated case who was tried concomitantly to the other three due to a previous association with Khadzhikurbanov. Ryaguzov was also acquitted in his case.

In what has been described in many reports as an assassination, Politkovskaya was shot five times in the elevator of her apartment building in central Moscow while returning from a trip to the supermarket on 7 October 2006. She was 48 years old at the time of her death and a mother of two. The date of the event coincided with then-president Vladimir Putin's birthday.

To say I'm disappointed - I can't really say that, because I was ready for such a verdict.

—Ilya Politkovsky, son

Politkovskaya was a harsh and prominent critic of the Kremlin, many aspects and institutions of contemporary Russian society such as the secret services and high-level corruption, and the Moscow-backed government of Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya. Domestic and international sources have claimed government involvement in her death. With or without government complicity the murder may along with other recent killings indicate that journalists can be slain with impunity, a situation that seriously hampers the rule of law in Russia.

Family of the defendants cheered upon the jury forewoman's recitation of the verdict. As the judge declared them free to go the three burst from the metal courtroom cage to join their supporters.

Defense attorney Murad Musayev hailed the acquittal as a rare triumph of justice within the Russian court system. Prosecutor Vera Pashkovskaya announced an intent to appeal the ruling.