New judge in Klebnikov trial rejects appeal for open hearing

New York, February 15, 2006—A new judge in the trial of Chechens charged with killing Forbes-Russia Editor Paul Klebnikov rejected a defense appeal today to open the hearing to the public. A spokesman for the Klebnikov family told The Associated Press that the judge at the Moscow City Court ruled the decision to close the trial was not subject to review.

The trial of Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, who are charged with killing Klebnikov in 2004, was stopped last month after judge Marina Komarova fell ill. The court is also to appoint a new jury soon, Itar-Tass news agency said. Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usacheva told Itar-Tass that “by law, if a judge is unable to continue participation in the trial proceedings, a new judge is appointed and the trial proceedings are restarted from their preliminary stage.”

Prosecutors sought a closed trial saying some evidence was classified.

“We renew our appeal to the Russian authorities to show their commitment to transparency and make the Paul Klebnikov hearings open to the media and the public,” Ann Cooper , executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said.

In addition to killing Klebnikov, an American journalist of Russian descent, Dukuzov and Vakhayev are also charged with contract killings, extortion, robbery, and membership in a criminal gang, according to press reports. A third defendant, Fail Sadretdinov, is being tried alongside Dukuzov and Vakhayev on a separate charge, the AP said.

“Our family is attentively following the process and keeps well informed of the developments in the courtroom,” Peter Klebnikov, Paul’s older brother, told CPJ. “We believe this trial is an excellent opportunity for the world to see the Russian justice system at work. Let there be no unanswered questions; let there be no doubts that the rule of law can prevail.”
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 Klebnikov’s 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.

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.