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Russia19 November 2008

In “disgraceful” move, judge reverses decision to let press and public attend Politkovskaya murder trial

Reporters Without Borders is baffled and disappointed to learn that Yevgeny Zubov, the presiding judge in the trial of four men for the 2006 murder of Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya, today ruled that the press and public will henceforth be excluded, reversing the decision he took on the first day of the trial two days ago.

Zubov issued his ruling after receiving a note from jurors saying they refused to enter the courtroom as long as the press was there. There were many journalists in the military court for the start of today’s session.

Reporters Without Borders asked Politkovskaya’s son, Ilya Politkovskiy, and Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitri Muratov to comment on the ruling. “I was also opposed to the trial taking place with a lot of disorderliness,” Politkovskiy said. “But a consensus could have been found by letting fewer journalists into the courtroom than on Monday.”

Muratov described the decision as “disgraceful” but said he had been expecting it. He attributed the initial decision to let the press and public attend to human rights rapporteur Vladimir Lukin’s presence in the courtroom on 17 November.

“In just two days they found a pretext for holding it behind closed doors,” he said. “This is a game of politics and intrigue.” He added that the newspaper would still follow the trial and “in that sense, it will be open.”

Reporters Without Borders said : “Account must be taken of the position of the jurors, but holding the trial entirely behind closed doors is not the right solution. This decision just reinforces the doubts about the government’s desire to shed light on this case and to combat impunity for those who kill journalists. It is deplorable.”

Both the lawyers representing the defendants and those representing the Politkovskaya family also objected to the decision.

One of the defence lawyers, Murad Musayev, was quoted by the news website as saying : “There was no legal basis for this decision. It would have been different if the jurors had been the target of pressure. But in this case, we are talking about still cameras and video cameras, not guns.”

Politkovskaya family lawyer Karina Moskalenko said : “We hailed the original decision to have an open trial and the jurors had a chance to recuse themselves or let it be known they had received threats. It should be explained to them they have no reason to fear the Russian press or public.”

Video of opening of trial

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