Russia to start Politkovskaya murder trial

A050830510.jpgMOSCOW (Reuters) – Three men go on trial on Wednesday for involvement in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist and Kremlin critic.Politkovskaya, whose reports on Russia’s breakaway Chechnya region detailing rights abuses angered the Kremlin, was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment in 2006.

Two Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, are charged with conducting surveillance on Politkovskaya and former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov is accused of providing technical help. All three say they are innocent.

The court is expected to decide on whether the public and media will be allowed to observe the trial, which is being held in a Moscow military court because one of the defendants used to be a law enforcement officer.

“If there is a jury, the trial will be fair and that means there will be an acquittal,” said defense lawyer Murat Musayev.

“The case the prosecution has sent to court is a shameful disgrace,” Musayev added. “We are sure that the prosecutors will try to make the trial closed to the public to cover up this disgrace, but we hope the court will not do this.”

Politkovskaya’s supporters say the main culprits will not be in the dock: a third Makhmudov brother, Rustam, who prosecutors suspect of shooting Politkovskaya, is on the run, and police have not found who ordered the murder.

A lawyer, due to represent the Politkovskaya family, said she could not attend after she found poisonous mercury in her car in Strasbourg, France, and believed it may have been a warning to her.

Karina Moskalenko told Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station: “People do not put mercury in your car to improve your health.”

Exposure to high levels of mercury can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, immune and nervous systems. It can sometimes lead to death, said the U.S. government’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Strasbourg assistant prosecutor Claude Palpacuer said an investigation had been opened.

Anna Stavitskaya, another lawyer representing Politkovskaya’s family, said she would ask for a postponement because Moskalenko was unable to attend.

Politkovskaya reported corruption and rights abuses during fighting in Chechnya where Moscow has launched two wars against separatists since 1994. The Russian military has denied the charges of systematic abuse.

Her murder is cited by Kremlin critics as a symbol of what they say has been an erosion of democratic freedoms under former President Vladimir Putin.

Putin, now Russia’s prime minister, has denied any Kremlin link to the killing and ordered a thorough investigation

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