On Tuesday 20 May a court jury in Moscow convicted five men for the murder of rights activist and investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. Three of the defendants had previously been acquitted of any involvement in the murder. The defendants all face life imprisonment and announced they will appeal.
Three of the defendants are brothers from Chechnya. One of them, Rustam Makhmudov, has been found guilty of pulling the trigger. The other two brothers, Ibragim en Dzhabrail Makhmudov, have been found guilty of acting as getaway drivers. The logistics of the murder was arranged by the fourth defendant, an uncle of the three brothers, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev. The fifth defendant, former Moscow police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, was convicted for preparing the murder. Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov had previously been acquitted.
Rights activists and relatives of Anna Politkovskaya said justice will only be done when those who ordered the contract-style murder are also convicted. Anna Stavitskaya, the lawyer of the Politkovskaya family said “The murder will only be solved when the name of the person who ordered [the murder] is known.” Critics doubt that would ever happen because they believe the trail could lead to the government.
Anna Politkovskaya was a reporter for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. She was best known for her dogged reporting on human rights violations in the northern Caucasus and government misconduct. She was especially critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chechen autonomous region President Ramzan Kadyrov. Her reporting angered many in Russia’s leadership
On 7 October 2006 Politkovskaya was shot dead in the hallway of her apartment building in Moscow. She had been killed by a professional murderer. She was shot twice in the chest and once in the head, and the gun’s serial number had been erased. The murder sparked wild speculation about who might be responsible. Many believe the authorities might have ordered the killing of Politkovskaya in an attempt to silence her critique.
The death of Politkovskaya sent shockwaves around the world. United States State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stated that the United States “is shocked and profoundly saddened by the brutal murder of independent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya”. In a letter to Politkovskaya’s two children, French President Jacques Chirac said “The hateful murder of your mother […] has shocked me as it has shocked all the French who defend press freedom”.
The murder of Anna Politkovskaya drew attention to the dangers Russians face when they challenge the authorities and deepened Western concerns about the Rule of Law under President Putin. The acquittal of the three defendants in 2009 was an embarrassment for the Russian prosecutors and got thrown out by the Russian Supreme Court.
The latest conviction was welcomed by friends and family of Anna Politkovskaya, although they stressed the case was not over until the person who ordered the murder is convicted. Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Federal Investigative Committee said the authorities were doing all they can to identify and track down the person behind the killing.
Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters I, Reuters II, The Guardian.