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Russian Prosecutors Seek Ouster of Judge Who Permitted Open Trial

Russian prosecutors are demanding the removal of a judge who allowed the politically charged trial of murdered investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya to be open to the public. The development follows a statement by the defense attorney for one of the alleged killers that a Russian politician may be behind the murder. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports.

Russian news agencies report, the prosecutor's office is seeking the removal of Judge Yevgeny Zubov from the Politkovskaya trial on procedural grounds.

Murad Musayev, attorney for one of the defendants in the trial, says the prosecution's move deals with jury selection, and permission the judge gave for lawyers to speak to the media.

Musayev says the defense did not ask for such permission, but that he is now speaking to the media, because he is aware of what freedom of speech is all about. He adds that the prosecution and the court tried to close the hearing, which the defense did not want, and that they are going to tell journalists, as he put it, everything that is true and lawful.

Attorneys for the defense and also the victim's family want an open trial. A decision on the judge's status is expected Wednesday.

Judge Zubov announced earlier Tuesday that the Politkovskaya trial would be open, overturning his decision last week to close a trial that he initially said would be open. His interim decision to hold secret proceedings was based on what he claimed was fear that some jurors had for their safety, if members of the press were allowed to attend.

But one of the jurors told Ekho Moskvy, a popular independent radio station in the Russian capital, that he and other jurors did not have such fears, undermining the rationale for a closed trial. The juror, Yevgeny Kolesov, has been dismissed for speaking to the media.

A court spokesman said only print journalists would be allowed to attend an open trial, and that still or video photography of jury members would be prohibited.

In an interview with VOA just hours before prosecutors made their move against the judge, Sergei Sokolov, an editor at Novaya Gazeta, where Anna Politkovskaya worked until her murder, cautioned that officials could indeed close the trial.

Sokolov says, how everything will turn out is not known, though it would be preferable if officials did not think up other pretexts to conduct a closed trial.

The editor is also raising questions about an interpretation of the indictment against Politkovskaya's alleged killers by defense attorney Musayev, who claims the document points to an unnamed Russian politician as being behind her murder.

According to Sokolov, the indictment says the murder was professional and closely linked to politics, and on this basis, the attorney came to the conclusion that a Russian politician was involved.

The Politkovskaya case is being heard in a military court because one of the defendants, Pavel Ryaguzov, is an officer in Russia's Federal Security Service. Prosecutors have been seeking to bar the media, saying journalists could hear classified information from this defendant. He is being tried along with former policeman Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and two brothers from Chechnya, Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Ibragim Makhmudov, who are accused of helping arrange the killing. They deny all charges.

Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in the hallway of her Moscow apartment building in October 2006. She was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin and reported extensively on human rights abuses in Chechnya, a Caucasus republic where Russia fought two bloody wars against separatists since the 1990s.

The slain journalist's family says her murder investigation is incomplete, because the suspected triggerman has not been apprehended and the mastermind has not been identified.