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CHELYABINSK -- A court in south-central Russia has began hearing a case in which 18 police officers are charged in the deaths of four prisoners and the beating of several others in their custody, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Seventeen people are identified as victims in the case, including the parents of the prisoners who were killed, but only two of them were in the court in Chelyabinsk.

The prosecution said that on May 31, 2008, the policemen at a labor camp in Chelyabinsk Oblast beat 12 prisoners. Four of them died as a result. The head of the federal penitentiary service said the prisoners provoked the beatings by attacking the police.

Before the trial could begin, all 20 lawyers for the defendants walked out of the courtroom to protest the presence of journalists and photographers. But they later returned.

The presiding judge announced that journalists have the right to attend any open court session.