Politkovskaya Murder Trial to Open

APPolitkovskaya family lawyer Anna Stavitskaya speaking outside court Oct. 15.
The trial of three suspects in the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya begins Monday, and lawyers representing both sides will demand that it be open to the public.

"Investigators are the only people who want it to be closed, to cover their shame," said Murad Musayev, a defense lawyer for two of the suspects, Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov.

The Makhmudov brothers and a former officer in the anti-organized crime unit of the Moscow police department, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, are accused of participating in the shooting death of the Novaya Gazeta reporter in October 2006.

Another Makhmudov brother, Rustam, who has not been apprehended, is suspected of pulling the trigger.

Investigators have failed to establish who was the mastermind behind the murder, although officials have suggested that it was organized by an enemy of the Kremlin living outside of Russia.

Judge Yevgeny Zubov of the Moscow Military District Court, where the trial will be held, said at a preliminary hearing on Oct. 15 that he would close the trial to the public because of classified information in the case materials.

Anna Stavitskaya, a lawyer for Politkovskaya's family, said that if Zubov made good on his pledge, she would also demand an open trial.

"There is nothing containing state secrets in the case," she said.

Stavitskaya and Musayev said several brief references about the suspects that were attached to the case but not important to the outcome of the trial had been classified as secret by law enforcement agencies, formally requiring the judge to close the trial to the public. Both lawyers said they would ask the judge to close the hearings where the documents would be studied and keep the rest of the court process open.

Novaya Gazeta and the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, an international media freedom watchdog, have also called for an open trial.

Politkovskaya's son Ilya told reporters outside the court on Oct. 15 that the prosecution's case was incomplete because investigators had failed to find out who had ordered the killing and arrest the triggerman. "This crime has not been solved yet," he said. "The people being prosecuted are just a small part. I cannot say if they are guilty or not. The jury will answer that question."

Selection of the jury for the trial is to begin Tuesday.

Politkovskaya, 48, an award-winning reporter and one of the strongest critics in the media of the Kremlin's handling of the Chechen conflict, was gunned down in the elevator of her apartment building in central Moscow on Oct. 7, 2006.

A minor furor broke out around the time of last month's preliminary hearing when a lawyer for the Politkovskaya family, Karina Moskalenko, failed to show up amid fears that someone had tried to poison her with mercury in her car in France, where she works as a civil rights lawyer at the International Court for Human Rights at Strasbourg. The scare turned out to be a false alarm, with the former owner of the car saying he had accidentally broken a barometer in the car before selling it.