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Politkovskaya retrial to go ahead, as court denies family and prosecution request for fresh investigation

IPI Concerned at Apparent Lack of Resolve to Thoroughly Investigate Murder of Journalist

(IPI/IFEX) Vienna, 7 August 2009 - The retrial of four men recently acquitted of crimes connected to the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya will go ahead, a Moscow court decided today, despite requests from both the journalist's family and the prosecution to have the case returned to the Prosecutor-General for further investigation.

On 19 February 2009, a Moscow jury found police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov not guilty of helping to plan and execute the assassination of Kremlin critic Politkovskaya. The court also found a fourth man, former Russian spy Pavel Ryaguzov, not guilty in a separate but related case.

Russia's Supreme Court overturned the acquittals in June of this year, citing irregularities in the original proceedings.

Lawyers representing Politkovskaya's family asked for the case to be reopened and merged with an investigation into the mastermind behind the murder, which bore the marks of a contract killing.

The court decided today, however, that a retrial should begin 7 September, with the same charges and using the same evidence against the same four people.

Politkovskaya, a special correspondent at Russia's fiercely independent Novaya Gazeta, was gunned down in her apartment block in October 2006.

At the time of her death, she had reportedly been working on a story regarding the use of torture in Chechnya, and had received death threats.

In May 2008, ethnic Chechen Rustam Makhmudov was charged in absentia with killing Politkovskaya, and in November of that year Makhmudov brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim, along with Khadzhikurbanov, were tried as accessories to the murder.

The trial was, however, plagued with inconsistencies, such as the temporary shutting-out of the media for reasons that would later turn out to be spurious, claims that phone records presented by the prosecution had been manipulated, and a defendant testifying that the authorities had offered him a reduced sentence should he frame Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky.

"The Politkovskaya trial has been a litmus test for the Russian judiciary's willingness and ability to end the impunity of those who kill journalists in the country," said IPI Deputy Director, Michael Kudlak. "So far they have failed. We urge the authorities to finally bring to account all those who are guilty of this terrible crime."

IPI posthumously awarded Politkovskaya its 'World Press Freedom Hero Award' in 2006, while the Novaya Gazeta - which has lost four journalists since the year 2000 - received IPI's 'Free Media Pioneer Award' at this year's Annual IPI World Congress in Helsinki.

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