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Chechen Rebel Envoy to Remain in Danish Jail - 2002-11-26

A Danish court has ruled that a Chechen rebel envoy must remain in jail while authorities consider a Russian request that he be extradited to face terrorism charges. Journalists have joined defense attorneys in formal complaints about the secrecy of the case. After a 30 minute closed door hearing, Judge Lisbeth Christensen ordered Ahmed Zakayev's detention extended until December 5. That gives Denmark's justice ministry additional time to study evidence that Russian prosecutors say links the actor and former Chechen culture minister to terrorist violence by the region's separatist forces.

Mr. Zakayev was arrested in Copenhagen October 30 after attending a conference of Chechen exiles here. He was ordered detained for two weeks, but his detention has now been extended twice.

Reporters were briefly allowed into Tuesday's hearing before it was closed for a discussion of the facts of the case. During the open session, Judge Christensen allowed Danish television reporter Olav Christensen to formally protest the secrecy surrounding the presentation of evidence.

Later, Mr. Christensen explained he is outraged that while Russian prosecutors openly discuss the charges against Mr. Zakayev, Denmark appears to be bowing to pressure from the Russian government to keep the evidence secret.

"In Russia you have various people from the prosecutors office in Moscow willingly discussing the case and Zakayev has no chance to defend himself. So his only chance of having his point of view heard here is by having an open hearing so the press can tell exactly what it is exactly that he thinks about these accusations," he said.

After the hearing, defense attorney Gunnar Homann expressed cautious optimism. He said he was encouraged that Denmark's Justice Minister has apparently not found anything in the Russian evidence that would cause her to act on the extradition request.

But Mr. Homann complained that even the defense attorneys are not being allowed to examine the evidence. "We asked that it should be held as an open session, and argued that we see the case is commented on in the press all over the world. In Russia too, and commented on by Russian authorities. And we thought it would be more appropriate if session here should be open, but court had another opinion," he said.

Reports from Moscow say Russia has sent fresh material to Denmark on the Zakayev case. Earlier, Danish officials had said the Russian evidence was not sufficient and contained inconsistencies.

Denmark and Russia do not have an extradition treaty, but Danish officials say the charges are so serious that they might hand Mr. Zakayev over if the evidence is strong enough, and if they receive assurances he would not face the death penalty.