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Trial upcoming for two suspects in Moscow double murder

A vigil for Anastasiya Baburova and Stanislav Markelov was held in January in Berlin. (AP/Franka Bruns)In an encouraging ruling last week, the Basmanny District Court in Moscow ordered that two suspects in the January 2009 double murder of Novaya Gazeta reporter Anastasiya Baburova and human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov be kept in custody pending trial.

Sergey Sokolov, Novaya Gazeta's deputy editor who oversees his newspaper's investigations into the murders of five colleagues, told CPJ that detectives had found firearms, explosives, ammunition, as well as forged documents and a large amount of cash in Nikita Tikhonov's and Evgeniya Khasis's shared apartment when police arrested them in November. According to the findings of the investigation--which is now considered complete--Tikhonov acted as the triggerman and Khasis as his accomplice in the Baburova-Markelov killing.

Baburova, a promising reporter for the Moscow-based tri-weekly Novaya Gazeta, and Markelov, a prominent lawyer who represented the paper, were shot dead on January 19, 2009. At around 3 p.m., Baburova, 25, and Markelov, 34, were walking together toward a subway station in downtown Moscow after a press conference when a gunman shot Markelov in the back of the head. Baburova apparently tried to stop the murderer, who had walked past her after shooting Markelov; the hitman then shot her in the head, the independent business daily Kommersant reported. Markelov died at the scene. Baburova died several hours later in a hospital.

The double slaying, committed within walking distance of the Kremlin, became probably the most publicized crime of 2009 in Russia. It also came as a crushing blow to Novaya Gazeta, which had already lost four journalists to murders in the eight years prior to that.

From the outset, investigators with the federal Investigative Committee focused on neo-Nazis, whom Markelov and Baburova had criticized and opposed in their work, as suspects. Markelov was a defense attorney for anti-fascist activists in Russia and monitored crimes committed by radical nationalists; he often passed information he obtained in his work to law enforcement. Baburova frequently reported on prosecutions of radical nationalists in Russia and was involved with the anti-fascist movement.

Tikhonov, 30, and Khasis, 26, were arrested in early November 2009. The police operation was shrouded in secrecy. Investigators had worked for months, monitoring and infiltrating nationalist groups and the public at large before making the arrests. Publicly available information indicates that Tikhonov and Khasis are both associated with the radical nationalist groups Russky Obraz (Russian Dignity). Khasis is also said to be an activist with the organization Russky Verdict (Russian Verdict), which provides monetary and legal support to neo-Nazis under prosecution.

Tikhonov had been wanted in Russia since 2006 for the murder of 19-year-old anti-fascist activist Aleksandr Ryukhin. Markelov defended Ryukhin's mother in that murder case.

Baburova's parents, Edward and Larissa, who have already read the findings of the investigation, told Novaya Gazeta that they were satisfied with its quality but hope the investigators won't stop at the triggerman's level. 

"It is too early to say that the crime has been fully solved," Sokolov told CPJ. "The guilt of the suspects must be proven in court. Other accomplices and those who ordered the killing--if such persons exist--must be found."

Baburova's and Markelov's colleagues have expressed doubt that Khasis and Tikhonov acted on their own and have urged that the investigation continue. Investigators have been silent on the issue.

The case will go to Moscow City Court later in the fall, but no trial date has been set. It could take Tikhonov and Khasis up to three months to complete studying their voluminous file, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing the suspects' lawyers. Baburova's colleagues are calling for the trial to be made open to the public to ensure its fairness and transparency.

(Reporting from Moscow)

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