Russia annuls Politkovskaya verdicts

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The quashing of the verdicts was the latest twist in a case that rights groups say has been marked the total failure of the Russian authorities to bring Politkovskaya's killers to justice.

Moscow -- Russia's supreme court Thursday ordered a new trial of the suspects in the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya after annulling acquittals decided in February.

"The supreme court has annulled the innocent verdict in the case of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya,” said Supreme Court Spokesman Pavel Odintsov. “The case will be examined again with new jurors.”

The quashing of the verdicts was the latest twist in a case that rights groups say has been marked the total failure of the Russian authorities to bring Politkovskaya's killers to justice.

Relatives of Politkovskaya condemned the decision, saying that a new trial was not enough and that a completely new investigation into the murder of the journalist, who was highly critical of the Kremlin, is needed.

None of the four suspects brought to trial had been charged with pulling the trigger in the shooting nor with ordering the apparent contract killing of Politkovskaya in her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006.

Murat Musayev, lawyer for one of the accused, slammed the supreme court decision as "political" and "predictable."

"This was a political decision taken at the highest level. We will contest this decision, but it is near fatalistic to do so in this country," Musayev told AFP.

"This decision was entirely predictable," he added. "In our country acquittal is considered an ill that must be fought against, especially if the case in question has wide resonance."

Politkovskaya family lawyer Anna Stavitskaya told AFP said: "We did not appeal the acquittal verdict because we saw no basis to do so. We agreed with the jury. From the evidence they were presented, they could not have decided differently."

"But the supreme court did not consider our opinion," she added. "We will demand in preliminary hearings that the case be returned to prosecutors -- that is to say that a new investigation be undertaken."

Of the suspects, Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov had been accused of acting as driver at the murder scene for the killer -- whom prosecutors say is a third brother, Rustam, who is still at large.

Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police investigator had been charged with providing logistical assistance for the killing.

Pavel Ryaguzov, a former agent of the FSB security service, was not directly accused of being part of the murder but of extortion in another aspect of the case.

During hearings, the defence team pointed out that the suspects' DNA had not been found on the weapon and that phone calls made by the accused at the time did not prove their presence at the murder scene.

Despite lasting three months, the original trial also failed to shed any significant light on the circumstances of the killing.

"Politkovskaya's children believe there was no proof of the guilt of these people ... but many questions remain about the case that were not even addressed at the trial," Stavitskaya said.

Politkovskaya wrote dozens of articles for her Novaya Gazeta newspaper and a book called Putin's Russia, which accused Putin of using the Chechen conflict to strangle democracy and detailed horrific rights abuses in Chechnya.

After her murder, Putin called for Politkovskaya's killers to be punished but also described as "extremely insignificant" her ability to influence political life in Russia.

The authorities' failure to find the killers had raised concerns that the enemies of critical journalists were being able to act with impunity in Russia.

A young journalist working as an intern on the Novaya Gazeta, Anastasia Baburova, was gunned down in central Moscow earlier this year as she emerged from a news conference with a prominent rights lawyer.

Olga Rotenberg/AFP/Expatica

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