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Open court in trial over slain Kremlin critic

A Russian court decided Monday not to ban reporters from the trial of three men accused in the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya — paving the way for an open trial.
Russia Politkovskaya
Pavel Ryguzov, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, Ibragim and his brother Dhzabrail Makhmudov (left to right) sit behind bars in a Moscow court on Monday. Khadzhikurbanov and the Makhmudov brothers are being tried on murder charges in the slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Ryguzov is accused of criminal links with Khadzhikurbanov.Sergey Ponomarev / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Russian court decided Monday not to ban reporters from the trial of three men accused in the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya — paving the way for an open trial where details of the much-criticized investigation will be made public.

Politkovskaya, who was slain in her Moscow apartment building in 2006, reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya, embarrassing the Kremlin. Her killing sparked international outrage, and Western governments demanded an independent investigation.

Lawyers for Politkovskaya's family were scathing Monday in their criticism of the official investigation, which they said was sabotaged to allow the suspected triggerman and the as-yet-unidentified mastermind to escape justice.

"Our aim is for the investigation to identify the mastermind, the financier and all the other accomplices in the murder," Karinna Moskalenko, who is representing Politkovskaya's son Ilya and daughter Vera, said after Monday's preliminary hearing. "Until then, we do not consider the investigation over."

Shooter said to have fled the country
The man accused of shooting Politkovskaya, Rustam Makhmudov, has fled the country, prosecutors say. The suspects being tried on murder charges are Sergei Khadzhikurbanov — a former Moscow police officer — and Makhmudov's brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail.

They are accused of providing logistical support for the murder. All three insisted to reporters Monday that they were not guilty.

The 12-member jury will be selected behind closed doors Tuesday, when a date for the trial itself could be announced.

Serious risks for independent reporting
Politkovskaya's slaying deepened Western concerns about Russia's course and underscored the risks run by independent Russian journalists. She was one of at least 13 journalists killed in contract-style slayings during Vladimir Putin's eight-year presidency. Few suspects have been prosecuted.

The defense also said Monday that the probe had been deliberately undermined, but expressed surprise at Judge Yevgeny Zubov's decision to allow the open trial that it and Politkovksaya's family had requested.

Prosecutors had requested a closed trial because they say some of the potential evidence is classified.

"Soon you will all see what this criminal investigation is all about," Murad Musayev, a lawyer for Dzhabrail Makhmudov, said outside the court.

Investigation a farce?
Moskalenko presented a list of reasons why Politkovksaya's family and colleagues at the Novaya Gazeta newspaper considered the official investigation a farce. She said officials leaked the list of suspects, the investigation failed to identify the mastermind, and investigators allegedly failed to question other possible suspects caught on surveillance cameras outside Politkovskaya's apartment before she was killed.

Moskalenko also said investigators failed to interrogate the leader of the southern republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has allegedly said more than once that he knew the identity of the mastermind.

Kadyrov has denied having any connection to the murder of Politkovskaya, who had sharply criticized him over rights abuses.

The case is being heard in a military court because the fourth defendant, Pavel Ryaguzov, is a Federal Security Service officer. He is accused of criminal links with Khadzhikurbanov, the former police officer, but he has not been charged in Politkovskaya's killing.

Most military court hearings are held behind closed doors because they are considered to involve sensitive security information.