In Russia, new suspect detained in Politkovskaya’s slaying

New York, August 24, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the detention of a new suspect in the murder of Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya, left, who was shot in her apartment building in 2006.

The suspect, retired Lt. Col. Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, is said to have formed a criminal group tasked with killing her, and the journalist’s colleagues hope he can help lead to the mastermind of the slaying.

“We welcome this new, significant development in the investigation into the murder of our colleague Anna Politkovskaya and commend the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for its persistent work toward bringing this case to a successful end,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We now call on investigators to continue building on their progress until all involved in the heinous crime–particularly its masterminds–are brought to justice.”

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation–the agency tasked with solving Politkovskaya’s murder–announced on Tuesday night that it had detained Pavlyuchenkov on suspicion of having organized the crime. According to the committee, the colonel is suspected of receiving payment for organizing the journalist’s murder and of forming the group to carry it out. The group included brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov (the former defendants in the case, who were acquitted by a jury in February 2009), a third Makhmudov brother, Rustam (who was arrested on May 31 and indicted on June 2 as the suspected gunman in the killing), and other unidentified persons.

Pavlyuchenkov worked as the head of surveillance at Moscow’s Main Internal Affairs Directorate, the city’s main police force, at the time that he purportedly organized Politkovskaya’s murder, the Investigate Committee said. In this capacity, he allegedly ordered surveillance of the journalist to ascertain her whereabouts and usual routes around Moscow, an official statement on the committee’s website says. Pavlyuchenkov then allegedly obtained a gun, which was to become the murder weapon, planned the logistics of the crime, and distributed the tasks among the various accomplices, the statement says. The Investigative Committee did not identify the mastermind or all of the suspected perpetrators of the murder, but declared: “The investigation has information of the suspected mastermind of the crime. However, the investigation considers publicizing this information to be premature.”

Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, said the detention of the suspected organizer of Politkovskaya’s killing might help the search for the mastermind behind it. “When not only low-level executors but the suspected organizers and the suspected gunman are on trial, then we can have a serious prosecution that could lead to the finding of the mastermind,” Sokolov told the local press.

Politkovskaya, a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, was well known for her investigative reports on human rights abuses in Chechnya–stories that led to multiple threats on her life. In her seven years covering the second Chechen war, the journalist’s reporting repeatedly drew the wrath of Russian authorities. She was threatened, jailed, forced into exile, and poisoned during her career, CPJ research shows. On October 7, 2006, a man in a baseball cap shot her dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment house.