THE MURDER OF ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA.
This is the latest on the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya (SEE SUNDAY HERALD LINK BELOW) who was shot dead in Moscow in October, 2006. More than 100 journalists have been murdered in Russia since the early 1990s.
In January, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer who often clashedwith the security services was shot and killed along with a studentjournalist investigating neo-Nazi activity in central Moscow.
The daytime attack occurred moments after the lawyer,Stanislav Markelov, 34, stepped out of an afternoon news conference hehad called to protest the release on parole a few days earlier of thehighest-ranking Russian officer convicted of atrocities in the Chechenwar.
Authorities said a gunman wearing a dark ski mask shot Markelov in the head on a street not far from the Kremlin.The journalist, Anastasia Baburova, 25, may have attempted to stop theassailant, and he shot her in the head as well before escaping into anearby subway station, officials said.
Baburova, a Moscow State University student writing freelance pieces for the independent biweekly Novaya Gazeta, died on an operating table a few hours later.
Human rights activists expressed anger and sorrow, and many said the attack recalled the shooting of Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative reporter for Novaya Gazeta whose killing sparked an international outcry about deteriorating freedoms in Russia.
SUNDAY HERALD ARTICLE LINK WITH FULL TEXT BELOW
Fresh probe into Politkovskaya murder is doomed to failure, supporters say
RUSSIA: From John Follett in Moscow
INVESTIGATORS AREto probe the murder of the crusading Russian investigative reporterAnna Politkovskaya for a second time amid growing suspicions of ahigh-level cover-up.
But hopes of a genuine breakthrough are almost nil, since the newinvestigation will face the same problems as the old one, which wasrepeatedly stonewalled by the security service, the FSB.
A judge ordered the new investigation after three men accused ofcomplicity in her murder unexpectedly walked free after a three-monthtrial and a shambolic two-year investigation. Among the accused were analleged look-out, an alleged getaway driver, and a former policeofficer accused of helping organise the contract killing.
Two of the three defendants were brothers, Ibragim and DzabrailMakhmudov, from Chechnya. A fourth man, a former Lieutenant Colonel inthe FSB, was also implicated. He too walked free. Politkovskaya's adultchildren say they are convinced all four were involved in the murder.
"I think all the four defendants are involved in my mother's murderin one way or another," said Ilya Politkovsky, who has studied the casefile. His view is shared by former journalistic colleagues ofPolitkovskaya, who have been conducting their own investigation.However, the case against the four was so poorly put together and theevidence against them so thin that even Ilya Politkovsky admitted hecould see why the 12-person jury voted unanimously to free thedefendants. A proper case, he said, had simply not been made "for somereason".
Politkovskaya was shot dead in the lift to her Moscow apartmentblock in October 2006 on the day Vladimir Putin, then president and nowprime minister, celebrated his 56th birthday. It later emerged she hadbeen followed for weeks by at least two surveillance teams. She waswell known in the West for her trenchant criticism of Putin and herdamning exposés of human rights abuses in Chechnya. In particular, sheinvestigated the often-brutal behaviour of Chechnya's pro-Kremlingovernment, led by former warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov has deniedordering her murder, saying he doesn't kill women. Putin took his timeto respond to her death but when he did, he belittled her achievements.
Initially, the investigation seemed to be going well but wheninvestigators uncovered disturbing connections to the FSB – thesuccessor to the KGB – the probe hit a brick wall. The FSB repeatedlyblocked requests for information on the grounds that it was classifiedand insisted on parts of the trial being held in secret. Investigatorswere prevented from examining the computer and the office belonging tothe former FSB officer enmeshed in the case and were prevented fromlearning the identity of his FSB colleagues. The identity of a man anda woman clearly caught on CCTV following Politkovskaya in a supermarketbefore she was killed was also – incredibly – never established. Moreimportantly, the identity of the person who ordered the murder wasnever revealed. The Chechen man who investigators accused of pullingthe trigger, the brother of two of the defendants, fled before he couldbe arrested in a case that was characterised by what looked likedeliberate leaks to the media aimed at sabotaging the investigation.
Journalists who used to work with Politkovskaya say the four menacquitted were low-level figures in a plot that involved individualswith much higher profiles. State prosecutors are appealing the courtdecision but even if it is overturned, critics say the chances ofcatching the real killers are slim. They say Russia will continue to gothrough the motions of investigation to protect what is left of itsinternational reputation.
Vsevolod Bogdanov, head of Russia's Union of Journalists, said hewas in shock. "I have a feeling of unbelievable shame," he saidafterwards.
The botched trial was reminiscent of the trial that followed the 2004 murder of US journalist Paul Klebnikov.
His suspected killers were also acquitted and by the time theauthorities decided to organize a retrial many of the originaldefendants could not be found. Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor ofPolitkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, said the "whole system" hadresisted a fair trial, largely due to the taboo against prosecuting lawenforcement and intelligence operatives. "Nothing works, not onegovernmental institution," he said.
He added that more than 100 Russians journalists had died incontract killings since the early 1990s – yet not one of those casescould be considered solved. In January, a young trainee at NovayaGazeta, Anastasia Baburova, became the paper's fourth journalist to bemurdered since 2001. Police say they have no leads.
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