Supreme Court overturns acquittal in Klebnikov murder

New York, November 9, 2006 — The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the decision today by Russia’s Supreme Court to overturn the acquittal of two suspects in the assassination of Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov and order a retrial. The ruling comes six months after a jury at Moscow City Court acquitted Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev of murdering the 41-year-old U.S. journalist.

The four-month-long trial was held behind closed doors, and all participants, including the 12 jurors, were silenced by a gag order. Court officials justified the secrecy on the grounds of classified evidence, and the safety of participants.

“We welcome this decision as an important first step in the battle against impunity for journalists murdered in Russia,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The first trial was riddled with procedural violations that were hidden from the public with closed-door proceedings and a gag order on all participants. We call on Russian court officials to make all new proceedings in this case transparent and open to the public. Then and only then can a fair trial be guaranteed.”

CPJ documented numerous procedural violations in the trial. To read more:

For four months following the May 5 verdict, Moscow City Court officials effectively blocked the Klebnikov family’s appeal to the Supreme Court by failing to provide them and their representatives with a transcript of the trial proceedings, which they needed to prepare a detailed appeal. Since the trial proceedings were sealed, and audio and video recording in the courtroom was prohibited, the transcript was the only document detailing the hearing. Russia’s Law of Criminal Procedure requires that access to the transcript be given to the plaintiffs within three days. The Klebnikovs filed their request for access in May and received the transcript in September.

The Klebnikov family said today in a statement that it viewed the Supreme Court ruling as a “hopeful sign for justice” but it expressed disappointment that “Paul’s killers and those who ordered this vicious crime are still at large two years after the fact.”

The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office has said that Chechen separatist leader Khozh Ahkmed Nukhayev, a subject of a critical book Klebnikov published in 2003, is the suspected masterminded in the slaying. Authorities allege that the accused killers were member of a fugitive Chechen criminal gang.

However, authorities have not provided any further details or evidence of Nukhayev’s alleged involvement.

Klebnikov, who was of Russian descent, moved to Moscow in 2004 to launch the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. Two-and-a half months after the first edition hit newsstands in April 2004, Klebnikov was gunned down outside his Moscow office in an apparent contract hit.

For more background on the murder, read

Klebnikov is one of 13 journalists killed gangland-style in Russia in the past six years, including leading investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot outside her Moscow apartment last month. In none of the cases have prosecutors produced a conviction and in none of the cases have the masterminds been brought to justice. Here are the victims:

Russia is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to a recent CPJ study, posted at