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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politkovskaya Trial Closed to the Public

Reversing his Monday decision, the judge ordered the court closed to the media and the public Wednesday in the trial of three men accused of killing journalist Anna Politkovskaya, citing concerns for the safety of the jury.

The decision was criticized severely by lawyers for the defense, Politkovskaya's family and rights groups, who hoped that the trial would uncover further information about the killing.

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

Shortly after the first hearing in the trial opened Wednesday, Judge Yevgeny Zubov read a note given to him by the jury saying they would not enter the courtroom as long as cameras and journalists remained inside. He then announced the ban on the public and media.

The decision outraged attorneys for the defendants and Politkovskaya's family, as well as the editor of Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked.

"I believe this is shameful," Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov told reporters.

Zubov's announcement Monday that the trial would be open surprised the lawyers taking part, although he warned that any complaints of pressure from jurors selected Tuesday would lead him to reverse the decision.

Charged with the murder are two ethnic Chechens, brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, and a former officer with the Moscow police anti-organized crime unit, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov.

A fourth defendant, Federal Security Service officer Pavel Ryaguzov, is charged in an unrelated extortion case in which he allegedly acted together with Khadzhikurbanov.

Lawyers for the defendants said Wednesday that they believed the court had planned to close the hearings all along.

"The jury was selected Tuesday, and they all knew that journalists would be inside the courtroom," said Ibragim Makhmudov's lawyer, Said Arsamirzayev. "The judge could have just banned cameras from the room."

Murad Musayev, the lawyer for Dzhabrail Makhmudov, agreed, calling the sequence of events a "PR trick by the court."

Prosecutors had called from the beginning for the hearings to be closed, saying documents related to the charges against Ryaguzov were classified.

The defense has answered by arguing that this evidence could be considered behind doors in a separate hearing.

The military prosecutors, who are handling the case because Ryaguzov is a member of a state security organization, appeared in court Wednesday in plain clothes and refused to comment in front of cameras, saying they were afraid of possible reprimands because they were not in uniform.

Speaking off-camera, they said they were also puzzled by the decision to try Ryaguzov's case along with that of Politkovskaya's murder.

The parents of the Makhmudov brothers came to Moscow from their village of Achkhan-Martan, in Chechnya, but were also banned from the courtroom on Wednesday.

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.

"We don't know where my son is now," the mother, Zalpa Makhmudova, said outside the courthouse. "I expected the police to tell me."

Besides the judge's decision, Karina Moskalenko, the lawyer for Politkovskaya's son, Ilya, criticized the investigation into the crime as incomplete, particularly in that it had not established who had ordered the murder of the award-winning reporter.

The trial is to resume Thursday with the beginning of testimony from the 55 witnesses who are scheduled to appear over the whole trial.