Reporters Without Borders

Suspected Politkovskaya hit-man arrested in Chechnya

Suspected Politkovskaya hit-man arrested in Chechnya

Published on Wednesday 1 June 2011.
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Reporters Without Borders gives a cautious welcome to the news that Rustam Makhmudov, the suspected hit-man in the October 2006 murder of Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya, was arrested yesterday in Chechnya.

“The arrest of the man suspected of carrying out the Politkovskaya shooting is a major advance but many questions remain unanswered,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Nearly five years have gone by and further investigation was ordered in September 2009, but her family and her newspaper are still not being told anything about the investigation. Furthermore, the authorities have never officially said who they think was behind this murder, and that is a crucial issue.”

Wanted in Russia and in Europe since 2008, Makhmudov was finally arrested at his parents’ home about 30 km outside the Chechen capital of Grozny, where he had been living for some time.

Politkovskaya family lawyer Anna Stavitskaya said she was amazed how long it took the police to locate him. The fact that he was able to move about freely in Russia and abroad for several years suggests that he had help within the police, especially help with getting false papers and crossing borders.

Makhmudov’s two brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, were acquitted on charges of complicity in the Politkovskaya murder for “lack of evidence” in February 2009. They had been accused of following the victim and keeping her under surveillance. Two other defendants, former police officer Sergey Khadzhikurbanov and former KGB colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, were also acquitted at the same time.

Many of the aspects of Politkovskaya’s murder outside her Lesnaya Street apartment in Moscow on 7 October 2006 have still to be clarified. “We will not be able to talk about progress until the people who gave the orders for her murder have been found,” Stavitskaya said.

“We urge the Russian and Chechen authorities to refrain from any political manipulation of the case,” Reporters Without Borders added. “We hope that President Medvedev will confirm his stated intentions as regards respect for press freedom in Russia and that he will make a specific effort to ensure that this investigation reaches a successful conclusion."

The recent convictions for the double murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and Novaya Gazeta reporter Anastasia Baburova seem to suggest that the authorities are now more inclined to combat impunity for those responsible for crimes of violence against journalists. Makhmudov’s arrest is a very positive first step in the Politkovskaya case but many others will be necessary before we are satisfied.”


Politkovskaya case chronology

  • 7 October 2006: Anna Politkovskaya is gunned down in the stairway of her apartment building on Lesnaya Street, in Moscow, shortly after 4pm. Despite the international outcry, there is no comment from the Russian authorities until 10 October, when then President Vladimir Putin says the murder should not go unpunished but describes her influence on political life in Russia as “insignificant.”
  • August 2007: Ten suspects are arrested.
  • 20 June 2008: Prosecutors announce that the preliminary investigation is complete and that four suspects are to be tried as accomplices.
  • 17 November 2008: The trial of four men accused of various degrees of complicity (including following and watching Politkovskaya) begins in Moscow. Two of the defendants are the brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov. One is former Moscow police officer Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, who is alleged to have organised the execution of the murder. The fourth is former FSB colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, who is charged with extortion in connection with the case. When the trial begins, it is open to the public. Two days later, the public is barred. It is finally reopened to the public on 25 November. The trial is marred by many irregularities and concludes with the acquittal of the defendants in February 2009. The prosecutor’s office appeals to the supreme court, which overturns the not-guilty verdicts on 25 June 2009 and orders a retrial.
  • 5 August 2009: When the retrial begins, the Politkovskaya family asks the court to send the case back to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation. Both the prosecutor’s office and the defence concur with the request but the court refuses. The family appeals and the supreme court approves the request on 3 September.
  • 3 September 2009: The case is sent back to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation and is combined with the case involving the suspected hitman and instigators. Since then, there have been no significant developments.
  • 6 October 2010: The judicial authorities extend the investigation until February 2011.
  • 7 October 2010: Fourth anniversary of the murder.
  • 6 November 2010: The journalist Oleg Kashin is attacked. President Dmitri Medvedev says those responsible will be punished. The investigations into attacks on several other Russian journalists including Igor Domnikov and Mikhail Beketov are relaunched.
  • 20 November 2010: It is reported that that a search is under way in Belgium for Rustam Makhmudov the suspected hitman in the Politkovskaya murder.
    - 31 Mai 2011: Rustam Makhmoudov is arrested in Chechnya.

Picture : TV5 Monde

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