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A Moscow jury last week acquitted all three men charged in the killing of journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, exposing Russia's inability to find and prosecute the perpetrators behind one of Russia's most infamous assassinations, say IFEX members.

"Russian prosecutors have so far shown they are incapable of bringing to justice those who orchestrated this crime," said the International Press Institute (IPI). "If the Russian justice system is to retain any credibility, the authorities need to redouble their efforts in this investigation and prosecute the killers, no matter how highly placed they may be."

Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov and a former police officer, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, were accused of helping organise and arrange Politkovskaya's contract-style killing in 2006. They were charged with murder and could have been imprisoned for life if convicted. An officer in Russia's spy service, Pavel Ryaguzov, was charged in a separate but related case. All four were acquitted.

The verdict was accepted by IFEX members and Politkovskaya's supporters, many of whom said that the jury acted according to the law, but that the prosecution's case was weak - having failed to bring sufficient evidence before the jury.

They also blamed the failure on corrupt authorities. The accused were in fact connected to the killing, one of Politkovskaya's editors Sergei Sokolov insisted, but shoddy investigation and flimsy court work failed to prove it. Sokolov said, "The entire corrupt system of law enforcement structures was engaged to block the work of the investigation."

A reporter for the investigative newspaper "Novaya Gazeta", Politkovskaya made powerful enemies in the Kremlin by probing atrocities in Chechnya at the hands of the Russian authorities. She was gunned down in her apartment building on 6 October 2006.

Her killing set off a lengthy pursuit for the gunman, accomplices and those who ordered Politkovskaya's death. But according to news reports, those acquitted last week were accused of relatively minor roles in the murder. The suspected triggerman - a third Makhmudov brother, Rustam - has disappeared and is wanted on an international warrant.

According to IFEX members who have been closely following the case, the investigation was troubled from the start. Out of the 10 suspects the prosecutor-general's office arrested in August 2007, only three were tried for involvement in the crime. The other seven were freed under murky circumstances, including two members of the Moscow police. Neither the alleged triggerman nor mastermind(s) were ever in custody.

Russia is the third-deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to CPJ. Under the present Russian leadership, 20 journalists have died for their work; 16 of those have been murdered in retaliation for their reporting. Only in one of the murders - that of "Novaya Gazeta's" Igor Domnikov - have the killers been convicted, and all the masterminds remain at large.

The Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF) and the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), along with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ), are currently finalising an investigation into Russia's impunity crisis.

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- GDF:
- IFJ:
- IPI:
- RSF:
- IFEX Russia page:
- Los Angeles Times:
(Photo: Ibragim Makhmudov (left) and his brother Dzhabrail, who were recently acquitted in the murder case of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Photo courtesy of Reuters)

(25 February 2009)

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