Russia - Three men accused of murdering Anna Politkovskaya are acquitted and released

    MONTREAL, Feb. 19 /CNW Telbec/ - The jury of a Moscow military court
today found three men - brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov and former
police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov - not guilty of organising the October
2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who worked for the independent
biweekly Novaya Gazeta. They could have faced life imprisonment if convicted.
The prosecutor's office said it would appeal against their acquittal.
    "This verdict is the result of an incomplete investigation that was
brought to trial prematurely," Reporters Without Borders said. "Furthermore,
the irregularities, inconsistencies and lack of transparency during the trial,
from which the public was repeatedly barred and which began with a
controversy, mean the case cannot be regarded as over. Until the triggerman
and the masterminds are identified, it will be impossible to know who ordered
this murder and why. Everything remains to be done."
    The press freedom organisation continued: "Politkovskaya's death is
emblematic of the plight of both investigative journalists and human rights
activists in Russia. We have recently seen further examples of the violence to
which they are exposed. We call on the Russian authorities to combat impunity
by all necessary means including effective judicial proceedings."
    The organisation added: "Our thoughts are with Politkovskaya's family and
colleagues. We assure them of our support in the search for the truth."
    Before the jurors withdrew to reach a verdict, judge Evgeni Zubov
reminded them of their duties and asked them to address a list of 17
questions. The first seven concerned the parallel charge of abuse of authority
brought against Khadzhikurbanov and former FSB Lt. Col. Pavel Ryaguzov. The
other nine questions concerned the actual murder. According to the jury, the
prosecution failed to prove the involvement of any of the suspects.
    The Politkovskaya family said it was satisfied with the verdict.
    Dzhabrail Makhmudov's lawyer, Murad Musayev, said in his summing-up: "All
those who have been in the courtroom have been able to see the inconsistencies
of the prosecution case (...) We have also seen how the prosecutors avoided
any debate about these charges, trying to confuse the jurors." He called for
an acquittal on the grounds that "the prosecution has failed to establish the
guilt of the accused." He nonetheless described Zubov as "one of the best
presiding judges" he had ever seen.
    The prosecutors insisted that the statements of witnesses and the
telephone records presented to the court established the guilt of the
defendants. "I have no doubt that the Makhmudov brothers and Sergei
Khadzhikurbanov participated in this murder," prosecutor Yulia Safina said.
    Karina Moskalenko, the lawyer representing the Politkovskaya family, said
her clients were "both satisfied and dissatisfied with the trial," adding that
"the key objective, defence of the rights and interests of the victims, was
not achieved." In her summing up, she said she was satisfied with the
behaviour of both the prosecution and the defence, as each had "played their
    Aged 48 and the mother of two children, Politkovskaya was well known for
her coverage of the Russian Caucasus, which she had visited many times. She
was also an outspoken critic of then President Vladimir Putin. She was gunned
down in the lift of her apartment building on Lesnaya Street in Moscow on 7
October 2006, Putin's birthday.
    The trial of the three men accused of participating in her murder began
last November. It was held before a military court on the grounds that one of
the defendants was a member of the security forces.
    Russia was ranked 141st out of 173 countries in the latest Reporters
Without Borders press freedom index. Twenty journalists have been killed in
connection with their work since March 2000.

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)

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