Posts Tagged ‘Anna Politkovskaya’
These days I am participating in the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum in Helsinki. By coincidence (well, at least the organizers say it is a coincidence), Dmitry Medvedev and the Finnish President Tarja Halonen are also meeting not far from here. The participants of the Forum used this opportunity to adopt an address to the two:
Dear President Halonen,
Dear President Medvedev,
While you are meeting today in Finland, we, representatives of Russian and Finnish civil societies, are also gathering here to discuss how non-governmental actors can contribute to cooperation between our two nations and to building a common European space based on the principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights. We would like to draw your attention to the following concerns, which are in the center of our discussions today.
Like you, dear Presidents, we also want to see Russia a modern and prosperous country. However, we believe that without ensuring fundamental freedoms, building strong democratic institutions and an independent judiciary any technological modernization efforts will fail. It goes without saying that free and fair elections and independence of the media are essential to this process.
We want to share with you some of our immediate concerns, which require resolute actions that go beyond declarations.
In particular, we are convinced that the draft law granting new powers to the FSB contradicts not only the Russian Constitution but also recognized international norms. Therefore, it should not be signed by the President of the Russian Federation.
We are extremely concerned about continued persecution of human rights defenders, political activists, trade unionists and journalists in Russia. Instead of fighting terrorism and organized crime, thousands of law enforcement officials harass civic and political activists, often under the pretext of fighting extremism. This practice must be stopped. Murders of human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers must be effectively investigated, and perpetrators brought to justice. Impunity simply must come to an end.
Lack of fair trial and due process fundamentally undermine access to justice in Russia. This includes torture in pretrial detention centers, politically motivated trials in cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and others; persecution of Alexey Sokolov and Oleg Orlov for their human rights work and Valentin Urusov for his trade union activism, as well as the lack of effective investigation of murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and Sergey Magnitsky. In the case of Magnitsky it is even more blatant because the names of those responsible for his death are well known. This list is by far not exhaustive.
Freedom of assembly continues to be denied to the Russian public. Across Europe we are united in support of Russian activists who convene peaceful gatherings in the framework of ”Strategy 31.” In a week from now, we will again express our solidarity with Russian people in Helsinki, Prague, Brussels, Berlin and other cities across the continent. We call on you, President Medvedev, to guarantee the freedom of assembly on 31 July and in the future.
We hope, President Halonen and President Medvedev, that these concerns close to our hearts will form an important part of your dialogue and that future Russian-Finnish modernization cooperation will include concrete projects in such areas as building independent judiciary, strengthening the rule of law and developing robust democratic institutions.
The jury acquitted all three men of involvement in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. Frankly, I was shocked to hear that news: this is a very unusual thing to happen in Russian courts and it’s yet more surprising since the investigation had been thought to be thorough.
Most probably, the detectives and prosecutors are to blame for this failure. The case was prepared badly by them and they had probably expected to manipulate the jury, as it is normally done at other trials. This may also be the reason for the judge’s attempt to close the process from the public.
Prosecutors will appeal and it’s still likely that the defendants will be punished at the end. But this jury’s verdict shows that the authorities show little capacity or will to find the murderers of Anna Politkovskaya.
A well-known attorney Stanislav Markelov and a young journalist Anastasia Baburova were assassinated on Monday not far from Kremlin. The murderer shot the lawyer in the head with a gun with silencer, the reporter tried to catch the hitman but was also shot dead.
Markelov had represented victims in many outspoken political suits including many war crimes in Chechnya. He was, for instance, involved in the case of Yury Budanov, a former colonel of Russian Army who had raped and killed a Chechen girl in 2000. By the way, Budanov was early released from the prison just a few days ago. He appears to have very influential supporters both in the army and in the government (like the governor of Ulyanovsk region Vladimir Shamanov).
Anastasia Baburova started to work in Novaya Gazeta (where Anna Politkovskaya had worked) only recently. She wrote about youth political groups including the Neo-Nazis, Novaya Gazeta reports.
This crime was added to the long bloody record of political murders in Putin’s Russia. Journalists who dared to investigate political crimes often become their next victims but it’s the first time when a lawyer is killed for political purposes.
I start writing for The Huffington Post, one of the leading American political blogs. Here is my first column for their recently launched World News section, on the case of Anna Politkovskaya.
Murder of Anna Politkovskaya: The Trial Begins
December 5, 2008
Four men, two of them are officers of Russian special services and two others are Chechens, are being tried in the Moscow District Military Court now. They are accused of organizing the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of the most outrageous crimes in Russia’s recent history.
Who was Anna Politkovskaya?
Anna Politkovskaya was a prominent Russian journalist who worked for Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Most of her work was dedicated to the Northern Caucasus and in particular to Chechnya, devastated by two wars, poverty, terrorism and unbelievable lawlessness. She went where misery was too great for people to bear. She investigated police and army brutality; she helped Russian prisoners of war; she supported victims of terrorism.
She was respected and trusted by both the Chechen separatists and the victims of Chechen terrorist groups. She was the one who brought drinking water to 800 hostages in the Moscow theatre Nord-Ost in 2002. When terrorists seized a school in Beslan in 2004, she immediately went there to negotiate a peaceful solution of the crisis. However, she didn’t make it to Beslan. She was poisoned on the airplane, as her colleagues believe, by Russian secret services who didn’t want her to interfere into their own plan. She survived but while she was in the hospital, the Russian army stormed the school. 331 hostages were killed as a result, most of them children.
Anna wrote a highly critical book Putin’s Russia in 2004 and participated in a founding conference of the Other Russia opposition coalition in July 2006. Russian authorities as well as the pro-Kremlin Chechen leadership despised Anna for her activities and didn’t even try to hide it. When she was killed, then-president Vladimir Putin tried to defend himself against suspicion in a very cynical way by saying that “her death caused more harm than her work”.
Who killed her?
She was assassinated at the doorstep of her home in Moscow on October 7, 2006, on Putin’s birthday. Many people believe that such a bloody gift was given to the Russian president by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (he was appointed president of Chechnya by Putin a few months later). Russian authorities, on the contrary, declared immediately that it was Boris Berezovsky’s provocation against Kremlin. Such claims weren’t unexpected as this ex-oligarch serves as a scapegoat for probably every second bad thing happening in Russia. No proofs of that were found afterwards, however. It is still unknown who was the initiator of this crime but, according to the defendant’s attorneys, the file has clues that it was “a political figure inside Russia.”
The hitman was also not found. Detectives say that the man who shot five bullets at Anna is Chechen Rustam Makhmudov and is now hiding abroad. Two his brothers are under trial for organizing the murder of Politkovskaya. Two others defendants are a former officer of UBOP (police unit responsible for fighting organized crime but also used against political opposition), Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, and acting FSB Lieutenant-Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov. Novaya Gazeta staff organized their own investigation and said that these defendants were most probably involved in the crime but they played more a supportive role.
The very beginning of the trial was marked by a serious scandal that raised new questions. The process was initially open to the public but at the second hearing the judge, Evgeny Zubov, decided that no journalists will be allowed in the court room. The reason was the jury’s request to close the process: the jurors were reportedly afraid of the media.
However, the next day juror Evgeny Kolesov gave an interview and claimed that there had been no such request and nobody asked to get journalists out. He said that a court clerk entered the jury’s room before the hearings and asked them to sign a written statement that they want the process to be closed. All the jurors refused to sign it. But still, the judge didn’t care. Nineteen out of 20 jurors signed a petition to the judge saying that they don’t have any objections to the open process. Evgeny Kolesov sent the judge a letter in which he said that he didn’t want to participate in an “unfair trial” and refused to stay in the jury.
The judge had to reopen the process after these events. However, it is still unknown what he wanted to hide so badly. Is it some links to the murder that go high into the ruling elite? Or is it related to the FSB’s reported surveillance of Politkovskaya? We will hopefully know soon.
Update: Rustam Makmugov, the suspected killer, made a statement that he was ready to surrender himself to the police if fair trial is guaranteed for him. Unfortunately, such a condition is very hard to meet in Russia.
The trial on the murder of Anna Politkovskaya will be closed for public. It is said to be a request of jury.