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Russian Court Rules Politkovskaya Trial To Be Open

A portrait of Anna Politkovskaya at an exhibition in her honor
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A Moscow military court has ordered a public trial for three suspected accomplices in the murder of crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya and rejected a prosecution request for a closed hearing.

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

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.

Police have not yet arrested the person they believe ordered the 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.

Lawyers for the three defendants and for Politkovskaya's family asked for the trial, at Moscow's main military court, to be opened to public scrutiny, saying it was the only way to ensure justice is done in the case.

"The state prosecution made an appeal for the criminal case to be heard in a closed format because some materials in the case contain details that are classified as state secrets," Judge Yevgeny Zubov said.

"After hearing the opinions of the sides involved, the court has refused to satisfy that appeal," he said.

Reporters Without Borders, a body which campaigns for press freedom, welcomed the decision to hold an open trial.

"The murder victim was an outspoken and independent journalist who dedicated her professional life to making the public aware of aspects of reality that many people would have liked to cover up," it said in a statement.

"We have a debt to her. We owe her transparency in the investigation and in the trial of her murderers."

Representatives of Politkovskaya's family said in a statement to the court that they believed the investigation was incomplete because her killer and whoever organized her murder were not in the dock.

The lawyers noted that Chechnya's pro-Kremlin leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, the target of scathing reports by the journalist, had not been questioned, said Anna Stavitskaya, one of the family's lawyers.

Kadyrov has denied any involvement in the murder. He said Chechens do not punish women when they settle scores and that Politkovskaya's killers should be brought to justice.

A former colonel in Russia's domestic security service also appeared in court with the other suspects.

Investigators previously said Pavel Ryaguzov had passed on Politkovskaya's address to another suspect, but that accusation has been dropped from the official case, according to lawyers.

He is now accused of abuse of office and extortion unrelated to Politkovskaya's murder.