Press Ban Lifted in Murder Hearings

In its second reversal in less than a week, the Moscow Military District Court on Tuesday lifted a ban on the media at the trial of three men charged in the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Judge Yevgeny Zubov last week ruled to close the trial to the press and public, reversing his ruling two days earlier to open the proceedings. On Tuesday, Zubov again said the press would be allowed in the courtroom for the proceedings, though he gave no explanation for the decision.

Some journalists were let into the courtroom Tuesday afternoon following the ruling, while others were left standing outside.

Lawyers for the defendants and Politkovskaya's family have repeatedly called for an open trial, while prosecutors have insisted that it be closed to the public.

Two prosecutors refused to comment Tuesday on Zubov's decision, saying they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Prosecutors on Tuesday also called for Zubov to be replaced, accusing him of being biased in the case, though Politkovskaya's family and the defendants' lawyers said they saw no reason for the judge to be removed.

Zubov on Wednesday is to consider the prosecution's request to have him removed from the trial.

"Prosecutors say that the judge has violated the law," said Murad Musayev, a lawyer for one of the defendants.

Musayev suggested that pressure from the media had prompted Zubov to open the trial.

Charged in Politkovskaya's murder are two ethnic Chechens, brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, and former Moscow police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov.

A third Makhmudov brother, Rustam, is suspected of actually pulling the trigger in the killing but has not been apprehended. An international warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Politkovskaya, who upset the Kremlin with her reporting of human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot to death in her apartment building in October 2006, rekindling fears about the safety of journalists working in the country.

Zubov based his decision to close the trial last week on jurors' purported fears for their safety. After the ruling, juror Yevgeny Kolesov contacted Ekho Moskvy radio and said Zubov's decision was groundless and that jurors did not fear an open trial.

Kolesov subsequently requested to be dismissed as a juror, and he was released from jury duty at Tuesday's hearing.

It appears that the trial will not be completely open to the media. Moscow Military District Court spokesman Alexander Minchanovsky on Tuesday allowed just a dozen reporters into the courtroom, and he said journalists would not be allowed to be present during procedural hearings.

Television cameras were barred from Tuesday's hearings.

Addressing reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday, Karina Moskalenko, a lawyer for Politkovskaya's family, said it was unclear whether such conditions could qualify the trial as open to the public.

Russian authorities have not publicly identified the person suspected of ordering her death, though Prosecutor General Yury Chaika has stated that this person is living abroad.

The indictment read in court last week said Politkovskaya's murder was ordered by an unidentified political figure displeased with her critical articles, said Anna Stavitskaya, a lawyer for Politkovskaya's daughter and son.