New York, June 2, 2011—Rustam Makhmudov, the suspected gunman in the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was indicted in Moscow today, according to Russian press reports. The charges follow Makhmudov’s arrest in Chechnya on Tuesday. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed these developments and called on investigators to continue their efforts to solve the killing.
Politkovskaya, a special correspondent for the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was well known for her investigative reports on human rights abuses in Chechnya–stories that led to multiple threats on her life. On October 7, 2006, a killer in a baseball cap shot her dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment house.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, the agency tasked with solving the gravest crimes in the country, announced today on its website that Makhmudov, who had been wanted on an Interpol warrant since shortly after Politkovskaya’s killing, was charged on four separate counts, including murder, illegal appropriation of firearms, kidnapping, and extortion. The latter two charges are not related to the journalist’s case.
Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee, told journalists today that investigators believed Makhmudov was the man who carried out Politkovskaya’s killing. He said the investigation had “gathered enough evidence” against him, the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported. Makhmudov denied the charges, according to reports in the local press.
“The arrest and indictment of a key suspect in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is a welcome step toward ending impunity in this important case,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the investigators to continue their efforts toward bringing all responsible for this heinous crime, particularly those who ordered Politkovskaya’s death, to justice.”
Dmitry Muratov, Novaya Gazeta‘s editor-in-chief and a 2007 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, welcomed Makhmudov’s arrest and indictment, which he said he viewed as “one of the steps towards exposing the person, who ordered [Politkovskaya’s] murder,” the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Reporting on Makhmudov’s arrest, Novaya Gazeta said on Tuesday that among other questions, investigators will have to explain how the suspected gunman–who was placed on the federal and international arrest warrants–was able to travel in and out of Russia unimpeded. Makhmudov fled Russia in late 2007 after obtaining a fraudulent travel passport, and reportedly lived in Europe; he was arrested on Tuesday at his parents’ house in Chechnya, local and international press reported.
In the seven years covering the second Chechen war, Politkovskaya’s reporting repeatedly drew the wrath of Russian authorities. She was threatened, jailed, forced into exile, and poisoned during her career, CPJ research shows. In February 2009, a Moscow jury court acquitted three defendants of helping to organize the crime.