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RSF calls for truth in murder of editor Paul Klebnikov after retrial of two Chechens announced

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders fears that the retrial of two Chechens for the July 2004 murder of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian version of the United States magazine "Forbes", will result at best in a "convenient" verdict for the Moscow authorities. Officials announced on 14 December 2007 that the "top secret" trial will start on 17 December, and will be held behind closed doors.

"There was nothing transparent about the first trial and we appealed at the time for a completely new investigation," the press freedom organisation said. "But the authorities have stuck to the theory that Klebnikov was killed by Chechens although there is a long list of other potential suspects. More than three years have gone by since his murder and it is high time it was solved."

Moscow city court spokesperson Anna Usachyova announced on 14 December that the retrial would start at 11 a.m. (local time) on 17 December. She said it had been classified "top secret" and that the press and public would therefore be unable to attend. A jury acquitted the two Chechen defendants, Musa Vakhayev and Kazbek Dukuzov, on the grounds of insufficient evidence in May 2006 but the Supreme Court overturned the verdict in response to an appeal by prosecutor Dmitri Shokhin.

The sudden decision to hold the retrial surprised Dukuzov's court-appointed defence lawyer, Alexander Chernov, who said he was no longer in touch with his client and did not know where he had been since March. Usachyova refused to say if he was still under arrest or if he was now a fugitive from justice. She also said she did not know if the two defendants would attend the trial in person or if there would be a video-link.

A Russian-American investigative journalist who had written about alleged links between the Kremlin and Chechen organised crime, Klebnikov was gunned down outside "Forbes"' Moscow office on 9 July 2004. He had also claimed that Boris Berezovski, a Russian oligarch now living in exile in London, financed Osama Bin Laden's activities in Chechnya in order to help Vladimir Putin secure the presidency.

The Russian investigators always gave preference to the theory that Klebnikov was killed by Chechens and ignored a US senate resolution of 26 July 2006 urging the Russian authorities to go after those who were behind the murder and to allow the United States and other countries to help with the investigation.

A total of 18 journalists have been killed in Russia since Putin became president in March 2000. Russia was ranked 144th out of 169 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index, issued in October.

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