MOSCOW -- Russian prosecutors have confirmed murder charges against three sisters accused of killing their abusive father in 2018, the sisters' defense team says, reversing their earlier calls for charges to be dropped and dealing a blow to women's rights activists who see the case as a litmus test for Russia's approach to domestic violence.
Attorney Aleksei Liptser, a member of the defense team, told RFE/RL on July 13 that the indictment had been finalized and the case would now go to trial.
In July 2018, investigators say, Krestina, Angelina, and Maria Khachaturyan -- then 19, 18, and 17 years old, respectively -- killed their father, Mikhail Khachaturyan, at their home in Moscow's outskirts. Materials gathered by investigators included substantial evidence of protracted sexual and physical abuse by Khachaturyan against his daughters.
The case has garnered widespread attention from Russian media and civil society and has pitted defenders of conservative values, backed by the Russian Orthodox Church, against women's rights activists who have been calling for the introduction of legislation on domestic violence as a way of bringing alleged perpetrators like Khachaturyan to justice and enabling their victims to plead self-defense.
In early December, investigators finalized their indictment against the three sisters and sent it to the prosecutor's office to prepare for trial. Krestina, Angelina, and Maria had acted with premeditation, it concluded, governed by "a strong personal enmity toward their father" due to continued physical and sexual abuse.
Later in December, Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Grin cited flaws in the investigation and asked officials to reclassify the sisters' actions as self-defense, which would pave the way for the women to be set free. But last week, according to the defense team, Grin confirmed the original murder charges in an apparent volte-face, meaning the case will almost certainly go to trial.
"Clearly, something has changed in his position during this period," Liptser, who represents Krestina, told state news agency TASS. "We now await the start of the trial."
'The Government Has Chosen Its Path'
Aleksei Parshin, who represents Angelina, denounced the latest development and the apparent conflict between prosecutors and investigators that had preceded it.
"The Investigative Committee did not follow prosecutor's orders, but prosecutors shut their eyes to this and confirmed the indictment," he wrote on Facebook. "That is all one needs to know about the state of a [government] organ responsible for upholding the constitution and adherence to laws."
Mari Davtyan, another member of the sisters' defense team, suggested that Grin's reversal was an indication that the political climate in Russia has shifted since the July 1 confirmation of controversial amendments to the constitution that were proposed and endorsed by Putin, and give him a path to extending his rule until 2036.
Their official introduction on July 4 was followed by a series of arrests and prosecutions targeting Russian journalists and officials, prompting fears of a major crackdown on dissent by a government looking to shore up its power.
"It's impossible not to notice what is happening," Davtyan wrote on Facebook, responding to the latest twist in the Khachaturyan case. "The government has chosen its path."
Attorneys have requested a jury trial for Krestina and Angelina Khachaturyan, looking to increase their chance of acquittal. But Liptser said the trial would probably be closed to the public due to the nature of the alleged abuse of the sisters by their father. This is a typical practice in Russia for cases that involve sexual harassment and other intimate information relating to defendants.
Maria Khachaturyan, who was 17 when the alleged crime took place, will be tried separately at a district-level court in the Russian capital, her lawyer Yaroslav Pakulin said. An assessment following the killing found her mentally unsound at the time of the crime, and she was recommended for psychological treatment.