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November 17th, 2008
Politkovskaya Murder Case to be Tried Before Public

Yesterday in Moscow, a judge ruled that the trial of three men accused of involvement with the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya will be open to the public and the press — a move that surprised many. Prosecutors had requested that reporters not be allowed in the courtroom as some of the potential evidence is classified. But the lawyer for Politkovskaya’s family said that an open trial would make the verdict more credible.

Politkovskaya’s powerful reportage on issues such as the conflict in Chechnya and the siege of Beslan’s School No. 1 made her more than a few enemies. Under international scrutiny, then-president Vladimir Putin pledged that authorities would “do everything possible to complete the investigation” of Politkovskaya’s murder. But despite his promises, none of the current defendants are alleged to have actually pulled the trigger or ordered the hit. The Russian government claims the shooter has fled the country and two years of investigation have not uncovered his whereabouts. On trial instead are an ex-police investigator from Moscow’s anti-organized crime unit and two brothers of the suspected gunman, accused of tailing the reporter in her final weeks. None of the three have confessed or agreed to assist in the investigation. Nonetheless, in an interview with Novaya Gazeta — Politkovskaya’s former newspaper — the lead special investigator in her murder says that the case “is solved as we announce it to be solved and give names.”

A fourth defendant (and former member of the FSB, the successor to the KGB) is also being tried, not for involvement with the Politkovskaya murder, but because of his associations with the ex-police investigator. His inclusion in the group means that the trial will take place before a military tribunal rather than a civil court. One of the reasons that the judge’s decision to try the case in public is so surprising is that military trials normally take place behind closed doors as they are presumed to involve sensitive material.

Jury selection in the trial began today.

In 2004, Anna Politkovskaya appeared in Wide Angle’s The Russian Newspaper Murders, two years before she herself was murdered.

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