In Klebnikov case, opening hearing held in closed court

New York, January 10, 2006—Three ethnic Chechens charged in connection with the July 2004 murder of Forbes Russia Editor Paul Klebnikov went on trial today in a Moscow court that was closed to the public, according to local and international press reports.

Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev are charged with killing Klebnikov, an American journalist of Russian descent. They are also charged with a series of other crimes, including contract killings, extortion, robbery, and membership in a criminal gang. The third defendant, Fail Sadretdinov, is charged with leading the gang.

The three men, who have pleaded innocent, are being tried before a jury in closed session of the Moscow City Court. Prosecutors sought a secret trial because they said some of the evidence is classified. The Committee to Protect Journalists and other groups have said the credibility of the proceedings suffers without public scrutiny.

Russian authorities say they are still seeking Chechen separatist leader Khozh Akhmed Nukhayev and two other purported gang members, Magomed Dukuzov and Magomed Edilsultanov, in connection with the Klebnikov slaying and other crimes, according to local press reports. Prosecutors say Nukhayev ordered the murder in retaliation for a book published by Klebnikov in 2003 profiling the Chechen separatist.

Some journalists have questioned the prosecutor’s case. Aleksandr Gordeyev, deputy editor of the Russian edition of Newsweek, spoke briefly to Klebnikov after he was shot, according to local and international press reports. Gordeyev said the mortally wounded editor told him twice that the gunman appeared to be an ethnic Russian.

“We are hoping for justice in this case but have no way of evaluating the proceedings,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Russian authorities are asking everyone to trust them, but their record gives no basis for such faith.”

Klebnikov, 41, was gunned down outside his Moscow office 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 journalists 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.