Suspects Acquitted In Russian Journalist's Murder

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The trial of three men accused of taking part in the killing of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya ended in acquittal Thursday. The case is yet another reminder of the dangers facing those who publicly criticize the Russian government.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The murder of a world-famous Russian journalist was the subject before a Moscow jury today, and they acquitted three men of taking part in the killing.

Anna Politkovskaya was a prominent Kremlin critic. She was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building in 2006.

He's NPR's Gregory Feifer in Moscow.

GREGORY FEIFER: None of the defendants was accused of pulling the trigger or ordering the killing. Those people are still at large. The men on trial, a former Moscow police officer and two Chechen brothers, were alleged only to have provided help in the murder.

The jury acquitted them unanimously after two hours of deliberation.

(Soundbite of reporters speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: Outside the courtroom after the verdict was read, the freed men pushed through a press of reporters to embrace friends and relatives. The defendants had faced life imprisonment.

(Soundbite of reporters speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: One of the defendants, Ibragim Makhmudov said only freedom. His lawyer, Murat Musayev, said prosecutors had come nowhere near proving his client's guilt and that justice had triumphed.

Mr. MURAT MUSAYEV (Defendant's Attorney, Moscow, Russia): Now the investigator is not going to receive any medals. He's going to be asked to find the real criminals.

FEIFER: Politkovskaya documented atrocities in Chechnya. Her son, Ilya, today said he respected the jury's verdict. But the lawyer for Politkovskaya's family, Karinna Moskalenko, said the jury's decision had shown that the investigation was deeply flawed.

Ms. KARINNA MOSKALENKO (Plaintiff's Attorney, Moscow, Russia): (Speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: We need to find the real killers, she said, and we'll succeed.

The authorities have been unable to solve a series of high-profile murders. Reporters Without Borders says 20 journalists have been killed in connection with their work in the last nine years. Only last month, another journalist from Politkovskaya's crusading newspaper Novaya Gazeta was shot on a Moscow street.

After today's trial, prosecutors said they would appeal the verdict.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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