Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Trial into the murder of human rights journalist Anna Politkovskay


Friederike Behr blogs from Russia on the Anna Politkovskaya murder trial

Anna Politkovskaya - murdered on 6 October 2006. ©Katja Tähjä

Anna Politkovskaya - murdered on 6 October 2006. ©Katja Tähjä

Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on 6 October 2006 in Moscow. She was shot on a Saturday afternoon, when she walked into the lift in the apartment building she lived in.

I had met her several times, one time right after Russian special forces had stormed a theatre in Moscow, where a group of men and women had taken over 800 people hostage. Anna Politkovskaya had tried to intervene and help to save the lives of those in the theatre. Subsequently, the theatre was stormed and about 150 people died.

Another time, in the Caucasus, she had just returned from meeting then Chechen prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov. He and his assistant had issued quite serious threats against her. Both times I was very much impressed by the way she responded to such experiences, not stepping back an inch, determined to continue her work.

Anna Politkovskaya had reported about the human rights situation in Chechnya since 1999 for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta . Her fearless and dedicated coverage of the conflict had been acknowledged through numerous awards including the Global Award for Human Rights Journalism from Amnesty International UK in 2001. She had also written extensively about abuses in other parts of Russia such as violence in the army, corruption in state structures, and police brutality.

Anna Politkovskaya faced intimidation and harassment from the Russian and Chechen authorities due to her outspoken criticism of government policy and action. She had been detained and threatened with serious reprisals for her reporting on several occasions.

Amnesty International campaigned throughout the period of investigation into her murder for the investigation to be full, thorough and impartial and for everyone involved in her murder to be brought to justice in procedures in line with international fair trial standards. Amnesty International members around the world have campaigned for this for the last two years.

The trial into her murder started with a preliminary hearing in October 2008, the first public hearing took place on 17 November.

Amnesty International was deeply concerned about the decision of the judge at Moscow’s District Military Court on 19 November to close the hearing based on expressions of fear from the side of the jury. No member of the jury had received any threats and as it turned out later, when one of the jury members went public and gave an interview to the Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, the jury had not requested for the trial to be held in camera.

At the next hearing, on 25 November, it was decided to open the trial again. The office of the prosecutor general questioned the judges impartiality but at the moment, he will continue to preside over the trial.

These twists and changes in the trial procedures make it even more important for Amnesty International to monitor the trial and to try to inform its membership as much as possible about it. Monitoring the trial and reporting about it may help to combat impunity and that’s why I’ll be there.

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