Anna Politkovskaya, a correspondent for the anti-Kremlin Novaya Gazeta, was shot five times and killed in a stairwell on October 7, 2006. Of all her work, it was the reports of human rights abuses in Chechnya that garnered the most respect, as well as many enemies.
Now judges have shut the public out of the trial into her murder using a bogus claim. The presiding judge at the Moscow District Military Court, Yevgeny Zubov, announced Wednesday that proceedings would be held behind closed doors after a request from the jury. They feared the publicity would put them at risk of harassment or violence, the court said.
But jurors have never expressed those fears, one of their number has claimed, adding they refused to sign a form asking for the trial to be held away from the press. Juror Yevgeny Kolesov told Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy that a court official gave the jury a statement shortly before the trial and requested they sign it. It said the jury was too frightened to have press at the trial, he said. But no one signed the statement, he claimed.
After a lunch break, Mr. Kolesov went on, the hearing went ahead without press anyway -- suggesting that Judge Zubov had acted without authorization. He told the radio station that it was "simply a shock" when the press was locked out. The 20 jurors were angered by the presiding judge's actions, he said, adding that 19 of them had voiced their support for the proceedings to be held in public.
On Wednesday morning, even as the court in central Moscow was preparing to kick the media out, an official continued to give the impression that the court would cooperate with numerous journalists from around the world who had come to cover the trial. He did warn, however, that any sign of pressure applied to jurors would lead to a ban on public spectators.
"Try not to focus on what the jurors are doing, don't analyze, just stick to the facts," he urged reporters. The official added that the court would endeavor "to look very closely, where possible, at all media reports relating to the trial."
On Monday the presiding judge still allowed the public into the hearing, though not without problems. Russia's human-rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, was at first refused entry. The liberal politician had to show his identification card and phone the highest court in Russia. Then a call was placed to the trial court, and Lukin was allowed to watch alongside numerous journalists.
Judge Zubov has already presided over the murder trial of another Russian journalist, Dmitry Kholodov. He was a correspondent from Komsomolskaja Pravda, a paper which at that time still occasionally criticized the Kremlin. After reporting on corruption in high ranks of the army, he was killed by a letter bomb on October 17, 1994. Some army officers stood trial over the murder but were eventually acquitted. The case remains unsolved.
On Thursday a decision was also made to halt the Politkovskaya trial until the start of December. The judge said a defense lawyer would have trouble attending some of the hearings on the scheduled dates. But the defense lawyer himself, Murad Musajev, said this wasn't true. He said there was no reason to postpone proceedings for 10 days -- casting further doubt on the transparency of the trial.