The Blog

Anna Politkovskaya Trial: Same Script, Different Cast

When it comes to journalists who criticise the Putin regime though, murder rather than jail seems to be the sad result. Over a dozen journalists have been killed since Putin came to power in 1999. Like Anna's, their cases also remain unsolved.

Court trials and justice in Putin's Russia have little correlation so it's unlikely that the latest trial on Anna Politkovskaya's assassination will give us answers.

Anna Politkovskaya, long-time Putin critic and once Russia's most famous journalist, was murdered in Moscow in October 2006 (on Putin's birthday, no less) in the lobby to her apartment block. Her assassination by an Izh pistol at close range, with a final bullet to the head, bore all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

Despite widespread calls to bring her killers to justice, including public comments from Chancellor Merkel and then-President George W. Bush, the people who ordered Anna's murder have never been identified.

That's not to say that Russia hasn't tried to put on a show of justice for the international press. Last year Russia tried and convicted a former police colonel, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, of supplying the Izh pistol.

But few were impressed so, in an attempt to appease the continuing pressure to solve Anna's murder, Russian authorities have charged five Chechen gunmen with the killing. Their trial started this week but profound concerns on the legitimacy of the proceedings have already been raised by the Politkovskaya family and Russian observers.

Three of the Chechen gunmen stood trial for the same crime back in 2009 but were acquitted. There has also been undue haste in pulling this trail together, raising concerns on its legality. As a result, Anna's children, Vera and Ilya, are boycotting the trial. They accused the Russian courts of deliberately starting the trial when they were not in Moscow, making it impossible for them to attend. "In this way, the court has violated our legal rights," they said in a statement released on Tuesday.

"We have waited almost seven years for the killers to stand trial but the state could not wait a few days. Tomorrow [Wednesday], a patently illegitimate process begins. We refuse to take part in such a trial."

They are supported in their assessment by Dimitry Muratov, Anna's former boss and Editor of Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. Muratov added that the jury was chosen "frenetically and rapidly".

All of this comes against the backdrop of increasing concern on the judicial process in Russia.

Only last week Alexei Navalny was convicted to five years in a labour camp for embezzlement, charges widely seen as trumped up to silence Putin's most outspoken critic. On hearing the news even the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to his Twitter account to say "Concerned by conviction of Alexei Navalny, selective justice in #Russia and lack of adherence to international human rights obligations".

Navalny though won't be alone in jail. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Russian oligarch, remains in jail for tax evasion and fraud. He was sentenced in 2005 for nine years. In 2010, the sentence was extended out to 2017. Few expect Khodorkovsky, once Russia's wealthiest man who was jailed shortly after he announced he was funding opposition parties in Russian elections, to see the light of day whilst Putin remains in power.

Two members of the band Pussy Riot, the female guitar group, also remain in prison after one of the members, Maria Alyokhina, was denied parole earlier this week. Both women were sentenced for two years for public order offences last year.

When it comes to journalists who criticise the Putin regime though, murder rather than jail seems to be the sad result. Over a dozen journalists have been killed since Putin came to power in 1999. Like Anna's, their cases also remain unsolved.

These deaths include a number from Anna's former paper, Novaya Gazeta, widely considered to be the only newspaper in Russia speaking out against the Putin regime. It also includes Paul Klebnikov, an American journalist and Editor of Forbes magazine, who was killed in Moscow whilst he was reportedly working on an article on how the richest in Russia obtained their wealth.

Let's also not forget the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian FSB agent, in London, which also remains unsolved. Litvinenko was assassinated only a few weeks after Anna Politkovskaya's murder, and after it came to light that he had given her security documents for an investigation she was working on.

This pattern of suppression, jailing and even murder of Putin's critics paints a very worrying picture. It seems the truth as well as justice remains elusive in Putin's Russia. Given this environment, it is unlikely that the trial of these Chechen gunmen will shed any light on who gave the order to kill Anna Politkovskaya.