Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer with the Moscow Directorate for
Combating Organized Crime, and brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov after a
three-month trial. Among other violations, the high court found that the trial
judge improperly admitted statements that compromised the jury's impartiality.
Numerous trial observers, including
Politkovskaya's supporters, said the prosecution's case was so deeply flawed
that the acquittals were understandable. A retrial may or may not address such
problems. They have also pointed out, in the past and again today, that the
three defendants were accused of secondary roles in the crime. The accused
gunman has been identified but has fled; the masterminds have not been
"Prosecutors must present strong, solid evidence in a
re-trial to convince jurors, and the public, of the three defendants' involvement
in this grave crime," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said today. "But vitally important is
that authorities focus their energy and expertise on apprehending and
prosecuting the gunman and masterminds in Anna Politkovskaya's assassination."
In an interview with CPJ, Novaya Gazeta Deputy Editor Sergei
Sokolov said: "The most important thing for us is that we not
only have some secondary characters answer for their actions, but have the real
culprits--the killer and the mastermind of the crime--called to the stand."
a lawyer representing the Politkovskaya family, told CPJ that the family did
not appeal the verdicts because the prosecution's case was untenable. Russian
law allows a victim's family to appoint a legal representative who can take an
official role in criminal proceedings.
"We are not saying that the three defendants had no
culpability in Anna's killing; we
had the impression that they were hiding something," Moskalenko said. "But we
do not know the degree of their involvement, if any, and we do respect the
presumption of innocence. The prosecution failed at the job of proving the
defendants guilty, and neither the court nor the jury was responsible for that."
In an interview today with the independent Ekho Moskvy
radio, Dzhabrail Makhmudov said that he and his brother, Ibragim, were ready to
stand trial again. "We have never run in our lives and we are not going to run
from this now," he said. Authorities have identified a third Makhmudov brother,
Rustam, as the gunman. Novaya Gazeta
and others have reported that Rustam Makhmudov fled Russia on a fraudulent passport.
Russia is the third-deadliest
country in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research, with 50
journalists killed on the job since 1992. Under the present Russian leadership,
17 journalists were killed in retaliation for their reporting. In only one of
the murders--that of Novaya Gazeta's Igor Domnikov--have
the killers been convicted; all of the masterminds remain at large.