Trial Over Poisoned Russian Journalist Begins Three men are being tried for killing a Russian journalist who was critical of the Kremlin's handling of the war in Chechnya. We speak with Financial Times' Charles Clover, who's been following the twists and turns of the trial from Moscow.
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Trial Over Poisoned Russian Journalist Begins

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Trial Over Poisoned Russian Journalist Begins

Trial Over Poisoned Russian Journalist Begins

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This Is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, the high cost of higher education and what the presidential candidates say they'll do to make college more affordable.

CHADWICK: First, murder in Moscow. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot to death two years ago. A trial is just beginning for three men linked to that killing. And now, a human rights lawyer who worked with the journalist appears to have been poisoned along with her children. She was too sick to go to the opening of the trial.

Charles Clover writes for the Financial Times in Moscow. He's been following the story. Charles, first remind us about the killing of Miss Politkovskaya. She was a journalist very critical of Russia's policy towards Chechnya.

Mr. CHARLES CLOVER (Journalist, Financial Times): Yes, that's right. She did - she wrote quite exhaustively about Chechnya. She was one of the top experts on Russia's wars in Chechnya. She was quite well known to, you know, the Russian authorities, and she was very critical of the Kremlin and of the Kremlin-backed Chechnyan government there.

CHADWICK: Yesterday was the first day of the trial of these three men who are tied to the murder but not actually accused of the murder. Who are they?

Mr. CLOVER: Well, two are brothers. They're from Chechnya. One, I believe, is Russian. They're, all three of them, are accused of being accessories to the murder. The murder happened in October of 2006. It was an assassination-style killing. They found a Makarov pistol near the body with four spent cartridges. The theory is that somebody ordered the killing.

But yes, there - no killer and no orderer of the killing has been charged. They're only accomplices, so far, have been charged in the murder.

CHADWICK: OK, and this latest development, there's a human rights lawyer named Karinna Moskalenko. Now, she's actually based in France. She's a Russian lawyer, but she's working in France, where the European Human Rights Commission is based. She was going to go to the trial, but - what happened?

Mr. CLOVER: Well, she says that she found mercury in her car, and obviously mercury is a very poisonous substance, can damage your health, and sure enough, her health is deteriorated following this incident, as well as the health of her children. When I spoke to her by phone, she said she didn't want to say 100 percent that it was an attempt to poison her; there were all sorts of different explanations. She was having medical tests. But yes, this is something that's quite ominous-sounding, especially in light of other similar incidents that have befallen people who have been critical of the Russian government.

CHADWICK: Do you know what is happening with her, and what will happen with the trial?

Mr. CLOVER: The trial is going to go ahead. It's taking place - the three accomplices are being tried in a military court, because one of them is a former soldier, I believe. The trial - I mean, nobody knows exactly how long it is going to last. It may not be publicly supervised. They may not allow any press or observers into the courtroom to supervise or observe the proceedings. What is going to happen with Karinna - a lot of it depends on her health. What she said is that, you know, she's going to follow the events of the trial as best she can. And they've already registered the case with the European Court of Human Rights, as you said, in the anticipation in that they won't get what they consider to be a fair hearing in Russia. Russia's a signatory of the European Court, and as such, they can get a hearing in Europe, which can potentially overturn or cast aspersions on a Russian verdict.

CHADWICK: The new Russian government of Mr. Medvedev has said that it is determined to demonstrate that it can hold fair and open and transparent judicial proceedings. Here's this trial involving the murder of this famous journalist. How is the government talking about what's going to happen here and what's going to go forward?

Mr. CLOVER: Well, the government isn't really talking a whole lot about this. They're not making a big statement here. I mean, obviously, there are a lot of people who are watching this trial. Medvedev, as you say is - One of the first things he said after he was sworn in as president is that he wanted to deal with what he referred to as legal nihilism in Russian. That is, courts falling under the sway of either powerful state bureaucrats or rich oligarchs and not dealing justice.

This is probably the first test of that. This is the first high-profile human rights case where the state would appear to have some sort of an interest in the result. And so, there are a lot of eyes on how this trial is conducted to see exactly how credible Mr. Medvedev's words are and whether he really does intend to reform the judicial system.

CHADWICK: Charles Clover in Moscow for the Financial Times. Charles, thank you.

Mr. CLOVER: Thank you very much.

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