The murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist shot dead two years ago outside her apartment (photo, from aljazeera.net), has been ordered by a Russian politician, according to details in an indictment, a defence lawyer has said.
Prosecutors had identified “a politician” inside Russia who ordered the killings, said Murad Musayev, a lawyer in the trial of three men charged in the killing, without naming the suspect.
The allegations contradict suggestions by Russian authorities that the killing was the work of a Kremlin enemy acting from abroad.
Authorities want the trial, that was partially opened to the media on Tuesday, to be held behind closed doors so that embarrassing details about the investigation are not made public, alleged colleagues from the newspaper where Mrs Politkovskaya worked.
The prosecution had said it wanted the court closed to the media because of the possibility that it might hear evidence from Pavel Ryaguzov, a state security agent, who is being tried alongside the three suspects, on charges unrelated to Mrs Politkovskaya’s murder.
“Even if the defence account is correct, there is no guarantee that such sensitive information will ever make it into open court”, said Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Moscow.
Along with former policeman Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, two brothers from Chechnya, Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Ibragim Makhmudov, are accused of helping arrange Mrs Politkovskaya.
All three of them are charged with being involved in the murder, not with either ordering it or carrying it out.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent said that “it’s been described by supporters of Anna Politkovskaya as a farce. In the dock sits neither the alleged killer, nor the person who ordered her murder, merely three men accused of involvement in the crime”.
The three men deny the charges.
On Tuesday the trial appeared in disarray, after the prosecution demanded that Yevgeny Zubov, the judge, be dismissed from the case.
Prosecutors have asked for the judge to be removed after he lifted his own ban on media covering the trial, said Mr Musayev.
“They consider that various organisational questions are having an influence on the judge’s opinions”, said Mr Musayev.
Karina Moskalenko, a lawyer for the Politkovskaya family, also confirmed prosecutors had applied for the judge to be taken off the case.
The request to remove the judge was made during a chaotic hearing where journalists were first barred from the courtroom, then later let back in.
Then journalists were told to leave again so the court could discuss procedural issues.
Test for the system
Mr Hull said: “The other surprise of the day was the judge’s reversal of his own decision last week to throw the press out.
“But the presence now of journalists in court may prove too great a threat to the doubtless powerful interests that sought Politkovskaya’s death.
“There are fresh suggestions the prosecution may seek to have judge Zubov removed from the case. With him, quite possibly, would go the media as well.”
For breaking rules barring discussion of the case in public, the judge told the court he was dismissing one of the jurors, Yevgeny Kolyesov.
This happened after Mr Kolyesov gave a radio interview last week challenging the judge’s decision to exclude the press.
As Russia has failed to put the main suspects behind bars in several politically charged murder case in the the past, the trial of the three alleged accomplices in her murder is widely viewed as a test of the country’s justice system.
However, according to Mrs Politkovskaya’s family the investigation is incomplete because the man they suspect of killing her, Rustam Makhmudov, is on the run and has not been charged.