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Russia Closes Politkovskaya Trial To Public

Anna Politkovskaya

Anna Politkovskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Supporters of murdered Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya slammed a judge's decision to close to the public the trial of three men accused of helping to kill her.

Politkovskaya's family had pressed for the trial to be held in public, saying that was the only way to ensure justice was done in the politically charged case.

The judge at Moscow's main military court overturned an earlier ruling that the trial be held in public, saying jurors had refused to enter the courtroom in the presence of reporters, a lawyer for Politkovskaya's family told Reuters.

"From our point of view, they were simply afraid of fulfilling their duty," said lawyer Karina Moskalenko. "I am deeply frustrated because the decision cannot be appealed against."

"This is a disgraceful, secret, backroom decision, which will prevent society from getting acquainted with how the case is built," said Dmitry Muratov, the editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta," the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked.

"This is terrible. It simply will not do," Muratov told Ekho Moskvy radio station. He said he would get round the ban on press coverage by publishing transcripts of the court proceedings in his newspaper.

Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two, was shot dead on October 7, 2006, outside her flat in Moscow. She was a fierce critic of the Kremlin and reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia.

Her murder was one of the highest profile killings of former President Vladimir Putin's eight-year rule and highlighted the danger to reporters of working in Russia.

Closed Jury Trial

Russia is ranked as the world's third most dangerous place for reporters by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which lists 49 journalists killed in Russia since 1992. Only Iraq and Algeria had more.

Police have not yet arrested the person they believe ordered Politkovskaya's murder and the Chechen man accused of pulling the trigger, Rustam Makhmudov, is on the run.

Two of his brothers, Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Ibragim Makhmudov, and former policeman Sergei Khadzhikurbanov appeared in court on November 17. They deny helping carry out the murder.

"It is simply outrageous that they [the jurors] didn't even come out into the court room," Said Arsamirzayev, a lawyer for Ibragim Makhmudov, told reporters.

"We have all been treated like little kids. We were shown the candy and promised a fair and open trial, but now we understand it is not going to be the case and we will have closed hearings," he said.

Prosecutors had earlier argued the trial should be closed to the public because some materials in the case were classified as state secrets.

The November 19 decision raised new questions about the viability of jury trials, which have only been adopted in Russia in the past few years and have faced massive resistance from state prosecutors.

Legal experts say prosecutors are accustomed to working with sympathetic judges sitting without a jury, and struggle to convince juries of their case.

A jury in 2006 acquitted the men accused of murdering Paul Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes," who was murdered in 2004.