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Politkovskaya Murder Trial Begins, Amid Poisoning Claims


A woman holds pictures of Politkovskaya in Moscow on October 7, the second anniversary of her murder.
MOSCOW (RFE/RL) -- Preliminary hearings in the slaying of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya have begun in a Moscow court amid reports that one of her family's lawyers has been poisoned.

Two Chechens brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, are charged with conducting surveillance on Politkovskaya, a fierce Kremlin critic who had exposed human rights abuses in Chechnya. She was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building in October 2006.

A third defendant, former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, is accused of providing technical help. The man accused of slaying Politkovskaya remains at large, and police have yet to find who ordered the murder.

But Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta" -- the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked -- hopes all the culprits will eventually be brought to justice.

"As a cautious optimist, I hope so, at any rate," Sokolov says. "Until now investigators have done their best, as far as possible. Investigators have findings; the newspaper, which is conducting its own investigation, also has findings. I think it is possible to find out the names of the person who ordered the murder and of others involved. But it remains to be seen how their guilt will be proved and whether they will be brought before court."

Lawyers representing Politkovskaya's family have asked that the trial be postponed by a week because their colleague, prominent human rights lawyer Karina Moskalenko, fell ill after finding a poisonous substance in her car.

'Little Balls Of Mercury'

Lawyer Anna Stavitskaya tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that a substance resembling mercury was found in the car which Moskalenko and her family uses in Strasbourg.

"Karina said her husband on Sunday [October 12] found traces of what looked like mercury in their car," Stavitskaya says. "He was cleaning the car when he found these little balls of mercury."

Stavitskaya says she has no doubt the incident is related to her colleague's legal work. "This poisoning attempt clearly intends to scare her in connection with her professional activity," she said. "She is in charge of a rather large number of high-profile cases, and I consider her to be one of Russia's best specialists on the European Court."

Both Moskalenko and her children have sought medical help for severe nausea and headaches.

"Many people traveled in this car so many were affected, including small children," says Olga Mikhailova, another lawyer close to Moskalenko.

French prosecutors said an investigation had been opened.

Moskalenko, who could not be reached for comment, has said she believes the apparent poisoning could be a warning.

Moskalenko also represents jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and helps Russian citizens sue the government at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.