June 3, 2013 / 1:57 PM / 5 years ago

Five men go on trial again accused of Putin critic's murder

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia began a second bid to convict the suspected killers of prominent Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya at a pre-trial hearing on Monday, but her family said the question of who ordered the murder was unlikely to emerge from the case.

More than six years after Politkovskaya was shot in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building, Rustam Makhmudov, the suspected killer, two of his brothers and two other defendants, including his uncle, face murder charges for the second time.

A Moscow jury embarrassed prosecutors in 2009 by acquitting three of the five defendants, but the Supreme Court threw out the decision and sent the case back to the prosecution.

In the courtroom, Makhmudov, dressed in black, talked to his uncle and the fifth suspect, an ex-policeman, inside a glass cage. The Chechen, who was arrested in May 2011 after years on the run, smiled and greeted his father and other brothers.

“God only knows what to expect of all this. I know they have done no wrong, I hope to see them home,” said his father Ruslan Makhmudov.

The case, which caused an international outcry and alarmed human rights groups in Russia, has come to symbolize attempts to stifle dissent under Vladimir Putin since he became president in 2000.

Children of Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, Vera (L) and Ilya look on before a court hearing in Moscow, June 3, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Politkovskaya, who was a journalist, made enemies by reporting on corruption across Russia and on rights abuses in Chechnya, the North Caucasus region where Moscow waged two wars against separatists since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

She also directly criticized Putin, who sent troops into Chechnya in 1999 after becoming prime minister. He has condemned her murder and said her killing caused greater damage to Russia than her reporting.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Anna Stavitskaya, a lawyer representing Politkovskaya’s family, expressed doubt that the key issue of who ordered the murder would be resolved.

“The case will be solved in full when the person who ordered it is found, when his name is established, when he is charged and his guilt is established by court,” she said. “There is no chance the name ... will be voiced in this trial.”

The pre-trial hearing was adjourned until Tuesday, after defense lawyers said they had found faults in the prosecutors’ case. They also said they wanted a trial to be held before a jury, something Politkovskaya’s family supports.

In December, a former policeman was sentenced to 11 years in a prison over the killing after he made a plea bargain and agreed to cooperate.

But Politkovskaya’s former colleagues, friends and family say he should have been pressed harder to provide the names of the people who commissioned the killing, and expressed doubt they would ever be revealed.

Politkovskaya’s is one of at least a dozen murders of Russian journalists that remains unsolved.

Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman, editing by Elizabeth Piper and Mike Collett-White

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