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Three charged in murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya; suspected shooter and mastermind still at large

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is an 18 June 2008 CPJ press release:

RUSSIA: Three charged in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya

New York, June 18, 2008 - The Investigative Committee of Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office announced today that it has charged three men in connection with the October 2006 assassination of Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya. With these charges, investigators have completed the preliminary investigation against the journalist's immediate killers, a spokesman for the agency said. However, separate probes into the suspected shooter and masterminds of the crime still continue, Sergei Sokolov, Novaya Gazeta's deputy editor, told CPJ.

Three suspects - Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer with the Moscow Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, and ethic Chechen brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov - have been charged with involvement in Politkovskaya's murder. The Investigative Committee's spokesman, Vladimir Markin, did not explain what the concrete role of each suspect was.

A fourth suspect - Pavel Ryaguzov, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) lieutenant colonel - has been charged with abuse of office and extortion, but Markin said the charges relate to other crimes. It remains unclear whether Ryaguzov's case will be separated from that of the other three in court.

A separate probe is still ongoing into the suspected gunman - 34-year-old ethnic Chechen Rustam Makhmudov - who has been charged with killing Politkovskaya in absentia. A third investigation is open into the masterminds of the crime, Sokolov told CPJ. Novaya Gazeta, he added, works closely with the case's investigative group, headed by Pyotr Garibyan.

"We call on Russian law enforcement authorities to join efforts with their international partners in the interest of this important investigation, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "More than 20 months have passed since our colleague Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in Moscow, and to this day, both the triggerman and the masterminds of this heinous crime remain at large."

Khadzhikurbanov, the Makhmudov brothers, and Ryaguzov are four of the initial 10 suspects in Politkovskaya's killing whose arrest Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced in August 2007. In the following months, however, law enforcement officials released a number of suspects. Sokolov told CPJ that deliberate leaks of confidential information in the press, and other forms of pressure on the investigation by elements interested in sabotaging it, have seriously jeopardized the pursuit of justice in his colleague's murder. For instance, Sokolov told CPJ, leaks in the press helped the suspected gunman - Rustam Makhmudov - escape custody. "If it were not for such deliberate efforts to destroy the investigation, we would probably have more charged in the murder today."

On May 12 Markin told journalists that seven suspects remained in custody. Since then, three more suspects have been released, including Shamil Burayev, the former head of the Achkhoi-Martan administrative district of Chechnya, who, the investigation previously indicated, organized Politkovskaya's assassination. Today, Markin said Burayev and two other suspects were released because their guilt could not be proven.

In an interview with the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, Novaya Gazeta's editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov said the case is far from closed. "We think the investigation is on the right track. However, a crime cannot be considered solved with the immediate killer still at large, on the run, and - this is now clear - outside the country," Muratov told Ekho Moskvy. "Neither can it be considered solved when the mastermind has not been identified." Muratov also said those responsible for damaging information leaks should be criminally charged with derailing the investigation.

Russia is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research. Since 2000 alone, 14 journalists have been murdered for their work and in only one of these killings - that of Novaya Gazeta's Igor Domnikov - have the killers been convicted; the masterminds, however, remain at large.

On the first anniversary of Politkovskaya's slaying, CPJ sent a letter to then President Vladimir Putin, asking for a diligent and transparent investigation that is free of political bias; it received no response.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information visit http://www.cpj.org

Updates the Politkovskaya case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93704

For further information on the Domnikov case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/85958

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