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Three charged in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya

RUSSIA:

New York, June 18, 2008—Three men have been charged in connection with the October 2006 assassination of Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the Investigative Committee at Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office announced today.

With these charges, investigators have completed a preliminary investigation into the journalist’s immediate killers, a spokesman for the committee said. However, separate probes into the suspected shooter and masterminds of the crime are ongoing, Sergei Sokolov, Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor, told CPJ.

Three suspects—Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer with the Moscow Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, and ethnic Chechen brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov—have been charged with involvement in Politkovskaya’s murder. Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin did not name the exact charges.

A fourth suspect—Pavel Ryaguzov, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) lieutenant colonel, has been charged with abuse of office and extortion, but Markin said the charges relate to other crimes. Ryaguzov was previously named as the organizer of Politkovskaya’s murder. A separate probe is still ongoing into the suspected gunman—another Makhmudov brother named Rustam—who has been charged in absentia with killing Politkovskaya. Rustam Makhmudov is at large and being sought on an international arrest warrant. And an investigation is currently open into the masterminds of the crime, Sokolov told CPJ.

In an interview for the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, Novaya Gazeta’s editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, said the case is far from closed. “We think the investigation is on the right track. However, a crime cannot be considered solved with the immediate killer still at large, on the run, and—this is now clear—outside the country,” Muratov told Ekho Moskvy. “Neither can it be considered solved when the mastermind has not been identified.”

“We call on Russian law enforcement authorities to join efforts with their international partners to advance this important investigation, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “More than 20 months have passed since our colleague Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in Moscow, but both the triggerman and the masterminds of this heinous crime remain at large.”

Khadzhikurbanov, the Makhmudov brothers, and Ryaguzov are four of the initial 10 suspects in Politkovskaya’s killing whose arrest Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced in August 2007. In the following months, however, law enforcement released a number of suspects.

On May 12, Markin told journalists that seven suspects remained in custody. Since then, three more suspects have been released, including Shamil Burayev, the former head of the Achkhoi-Martan administrative district of Chechnya, who the investigation named as organizing Politkovskaya’s assassination. Markin said Burayev and two other suspects were released because their guilt could not be proven.

Sokolov told CPJ that deliberate leaks of confidential information in the press and other forms of sabotage of the investigation have seriously jeopardized the pursuit of justice in his colleague’s murder. For instance, Sokolov told CPJ, leaks in the press helped the suspected gunman—Rustam Makhmudov—avoid custody. Muratov told Ekho Moskvy that anyone responsible for damaging information leaks should be criminally charged with derailing the investigation.

Russia is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research. Since 2000 alone, 14 journalists have been murdered for their work and in only one of these killings—that of Novaya Gazeta’s Igor Domnikov—have the killers been convicted; the masterminds, however, remain at large.

On the first anniversary of Politkovskaya’s slaying, CPJ sent a letter to then President Vladimir Putin, asking for a diligent and transparent investigation free of political bias; it received no response.

Politkovskaya, 48, was killed on October 7, 2006, in her apartment building She was the 13th journalist to be slain, contract style, in Putin’s Russia. While covering Chechnya for seven years for Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya endured threats, imprisonment, forced exile, and poisoning to chronicle the plight of civilians at the hands of federal troops, rebel forces, and the Kremlin-backed Chechen militia. In her reporting, Politkovskaya exposed human rights abuses, disappearances, corruption, torture, and murder. She sharply criticized Kremlin-backed Chechen then-Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov in her writing and in numerous interviews with international media.

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information visit www.cpj.org.

 

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