Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Monday, 17 November 2008

Will justice be done for Politkovskaya?

By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
BBC News, Moscow

Anna Politkovskaya, pictured in April 2005
Anna Politkovskaya was an outspoken journalist of international renown

It is a strange experience standing in the exact spot where someone has been murdered.

I was not in Russia on the day two years ago when Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in the entrance hall of her apartment building.

But standing in that spot this week suddenly brought home to me the chilling nature of her death.

Speak to anyone who knew Anna and you hear the same words - honest, dignified, thorough, passionate, fearless.

On that grey October day Anna was on her way to work at the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

As she stepped out of the lift on the ground floor she was shot four times at close range in the head and chest.

A pistol and the empty bullet casings were left beside her body. It was no random murder. It was a contract killing.

There are plenty of candidates for who would want to kill the softly-spoken 48-year-old. For, although she spoke with quiet dignity, her journalism was passionate and indignant.

She documented the emasculation of Russia's young democracy, the slow strangulation of its news media and the buying off by the Kremlin of its opposition politicians.

But her greatest fury was reserved for the Kremlin's war in Chechnya.

Chechen critic

While most of Russia, and the rest of the world, looked the other way, she documented the massive human rights abuses carried out there by Russian forces and their local militia allies.

She wrote of young Russian conscripts being sent to their deaths in pointless and ill-planned attacks, while their commanders slept off nights of heavy drinking.

Russian troops ride into Chechnya on an armoured carrier in January 2000
Politkovskaya highlighted human rights abuses in war-torn Chechnya

She wrote of the thousands of young Chechen men dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.

They were things the militia commanders in Chechnya and their bosses in Moscow did not want the outside world to hear about.

"It's clear who benefited from this murder," said fellow journalist Grigory Pasko.

"The regime benefited from silencing her, from silencing a brave and prominent journalist. And they also scared other journalists; the few independent journalists there still are in Russia."

Security men

Few believe the order to kill Anna Politkovskaya came from the Kremlin. But nor has it gone out of its way to find her killers.

After two years the three men now standing trial are lowly figures, alleged members of the gang hired to kill her.

"The people in the dock are just the underdogs," said Anna's son, Ilya. "There were a lot more people involved in this killing, not just the three who appeared in court."

The three deny being part of the plot to kill her.

No-one has followed the investigation closer than her son Ilya Politkovsky. He says it is clear to him that members of Russia's powerful internal security service, the FSB, were involved.

"I am confident that the security service as an institution was not involved," he said. "But it's also clear a lot of the people in the gang were serving officers from the FSB. They committed crimes alongside the gangsters."

The picture he paints is extremely disturbing.

It suggests that whoever wanted Anna Politkovskaya dead was able to hire a group of serving FSB officers to plan the killing. And that they, in turn, hired a group of Chechen gangsters to carry out the murder.

Ask ordinary Russians about this and they tend to shrug their shoulders. Few seem surprised at the idea.

The state-run media, meanwhile, declares itself well satisfied.

Without a hint of irony it declares the trial proof that the justice system works - that such crimes do not go unpunished in Russia.

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