Trial of Klebnikov murder suspects to be held in secretCPJ urges open proceeding

New York, November 22, 2005—Two Chechen men charged in the July 2004 slaying of Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov in Moscow will be tried in secret at the direction of the Russian prosecutor general, according to local and international press reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists urged prosecutors to reconsider the decision and hold the proceedings in public.

The prosecutor’s office said Monday that it was ready to proceed against the two defendants. Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova said today that a trial date would be set in two weeks. “The criminal trial will be held at the Moscow City Court in a closed regime, since there is information that is classified as ‘secret,’ ” Usachyova said, according to the state news agency RIA-Novosti.

“We call on Russian authorities to hold an open trial so that the media can report on the case and the public can evaluate the government’s evidence,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Many courts have successfully protected state secrets by closing portions of testimony and sealing evidence. Given Russia’s record of impunity in the murders of journalists, public and transparent proceedings would establish far greater credibility.”

The prosecutor is charging the two suspects—Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev—with committing a series of other crimes, including contract killings, extortion, robbery and participating in a criminal group, the state news agency ITAR-TASS reported. Russian authorities say they are seeking two other purported members of the criminal gang, Magomed Dukuzov and Magomed Edilsultanov, in connection with the Klebnikov slaying and other crimes, ITAR-TASS reported.

In June, the prosecutor accused Chechen separatist leader Khozh Akhmed Nukhayev of ordering the murder of Klebnikov, allegedly in retaliation for the journalist’s 2003 Russian-language book, Conversation with a Barbarian: Interviews with a Chechen Field Commander on Banditry and Islam. Authorities say they are also seeking Nukhayev.

Peter Klebnikov, Paul’s brother, told CPJ that his family has “confidence in the validity of the case” against the two defendants about to go on trial. “However, like everyone else, the family is still awaiting evidence that would implicate Nukhaev as the mastermind.”

Klebnikov, 41, an American journalist of Russian descent, was gunned down outside his Moscow office at around 10 p.m. on July 9, 2004. From the beginning of the investigation, Russian authorities described Klebnikov’s case as a contract murder and said they believed he was killed because of his work. Klebnikov had written a number of books and articles that angered his subjects. Among other topics, he wrote about the shadowy world of Russia’s business tycoons.

Klebnikov is one of 12 journalist murdered in contract-style killings since Russian President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000. None of the murders has been solved, according to CPJ’s analysis. See the list of the slain journalists.