* Murdered journalist was critical of Putin
* Putin critics see murder as symbolic of lack of freedom
* Ex-policeman did not disclose who ordered killing
By Gabriela Baczynska
MOSCOW, Dec 14 (Reuters) - A former policeman found guilty in the 2006 killing of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, was sentenced on Friday to spend 11 years in a penal colony.
Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov also was fined 3 million roubles ($97,800) for staking out Politkovskaya’s apartment and giving the killer the gun with which she was shot four times, including once in the head, on the president’s birthday on Oct. 7, 2006.
But the brief trial in Moscow did not reveal who ordered her killing and a lawyer representing her family said she would appeal against the reduced sentence, handed down under a plea bargain struck in exchange for Pavlyuchenkov’s cooperation.
“We are happy that ... at least one person involved in this case has been held responsible,” lawyer Anna Stavitskaya said. “(But) he should have been given a longer jail sentence than just 11 years.”
Pavlyuchenkov asked for forgiveness before briefly requiring medical assistance while awaiting the ruling.
“Please, as much as it’s possible, forgive me. That’s all I can say,” he told the Moscow court.
The alleged killer and four others are to be tried separately in a case that has come to symbolise the muffling of free speech and the corruption of the judiciary since Putin rose to power in 2000.
Politkovskaya, who was 58, was shot dead in the hallway of her Moscow apartment building after returning home from a grocery store with her shopping.
She had made enemies by reporting on corruption across Russia and on human rights abuses in Chechnya, the unruly North Caucasus region where Moscow waged two wars against separatists after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Some of her dispatches sharply criticised Putin, who sent troops to Chechnya in 1999 after becoming prime minister.
He condemned the murder four days after Politkovskaya’s death but also said her ability to influence Russia’s political life had been “extremely insignificant” and that her killing had caused greater damage to Russia than her writings.
Politkovskaya’s former colleagues, friends and family say he should be pressed harder to provide the names of the people who commissioned the killing.
The case is one of at least a dozen murders of Russian journalists whose killings have gone unsolved.
Rights groups and Politkovskaya’s colleagues at the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta where she worked have criticised the slow pace of the investigation and expressed doubt it will reveal who ultimately was behind her killing.