Dubrovka Proceedings Will Be Closed

Pending hearings at Europe's top human rights court into the 2002 hostage crisis at Moscow's Dubrovka theater will be closed to the public at the request of Russian authorities.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has granted Russia's request to hold the proceedings in the case, in which dozens of plaintiffs have accused Russia of violating their right to life, behind closed doors, a court spokeswoman said Friday.

"Still, any decision by the court will be made public," she said.

Chechen terrorists seized the theater on Oct. 23, 2002, leading to a 56-hour siege that ended with the deaths of 129 hostages, many killed after a botched rescue operation in which special forces pumped a knockout gas into the building.

Eighty plaintiffs from Russia, Ukraine, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan appealed to the court in August 2003, claiming that their right to life was violated by Russian authorities' handling of the standoff.

The plaintiffs, whose case was accepted by the court in December 2007, are seeking 50,000 euros each in damages from the government. The court has yet to set a date for the hearings.

On June 17, the court granted Russia's request to hear the case behind closed doors, the court spokeswoman said, though she declined to specify Russia's grounds for the petition.

The European Court of Human Rights can close the hearings to the media in cases relating to the national security of the states in question or to protect the privacy and interests of minors.

Igor Trunov, a lawyer for one group of plaintiffs, said the court's decision was aimed at protecting the lives of law enforcement agents who participated in the operation to free the hostages, because Russian authorities have promised full disclosure on how they handled the crisis.

"I believe this ... played the decisive role for the court, because such disclosures might endanger the lives of these people," Trunov said.

Russian authorities have also agreed to disclose the makeup of the knockout gas used in the storming of the theater by commandoes, Trunov said.

The court's decision means that no media will be allowed to attend the hearings, and case participants will have to promise in writing not to disclose information about the proceedings, Trunov said.

The court will also not post case materials on its web site, as it does in other hearings, he said.

Trunov added that consideration of his clients' complaints does not require disclosure of classified information.

The European Court of Human Rights this year has ordered Russia to pay 4.3 million euros ($6.7 million) to Russian citizens who filed complaints to the Strasbourg court for violations of human rights back home, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said in May.

President Dmitry Medvedev has dismissed Veronika Milinchuk, Russia's envoy to the Strasbourg court, the Kremlin press service said Thursday.