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Russia: Neo-Nazi husband and wife go on trial for double murder of lawyer and journalist

The trial begins: Anastasia Baburova (left) and Stanislav Markelov, who were killed in 2009.

The trial of two people accused of the murder of Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer specialised in Chechnya, and Novaya Gazeta reporter Anastasia Baburova finally began this week in Moscow, nearly two years after they were gunned in the centre of Moscow on January 19, 2009 at the end of news conference by Markelov.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) welcomed the fact that the judicial authorities are working to solve this murder but pointed out that there are various reasons for thinking that two defendants – Nikita Tikhonov and his wife, Yevgeniya Khasis – were not the only people involved.

Members of a neo-Nazi movement, Tikhonov and Khasis, were arrested in November 2009. Tikhonov confessed to the shooting at the time and said he acted alone. But, two months after his arrest, he retracted his confession and said it was obtained under threat and torture. Tikhonov and Khasis are charged with “murder and illegal possession of firearms.”

RSF urged the authorities to track down all those involved in this double murder and give them a fair trial. As President Medvedev said last November, those responsible for violence against journalists should be punished “regardless of their status or position in society”.

"This trial is a test for the Russian authorities. It gives them a new chance to finally commit to combating impunity and to turning their words into actions. In a country where journalists have repeatedly been murdered, the entire media community is waiting for justice to be done," RSF remarked.

A Novaya Gazeta representative told RSF: “We are pleased that the trial has started (...) It is very important. We assume that both of them, Tikhonov and Khasis, are involved in these murders and that the investigating committee has been able to find sufficient evidence of their guilt.”

As a human rights lawyer, Markelov had been involved in several very sensitive cases. He had represented journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in 2006, and Mikhail Beketov, who sustained permanent injuries in murder attempt in November 2008. At the time of his death, he was involved in three cases linked to Chechnya and the defence of anti-fascist activists.

Like Baburova, Markelov monitored the activities of Russia’s far-right groups, which are responsible for hundreds of racist murders every year. At the news conference that preceded his murder, he had condemned the early release of Yuri Budanov, a former army colonel who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2003 for the murder of a young Chechen woman, Elsa Kungayeva. Markelov was one of the three lawyers who represented her family.

The investigators concluded that Markelov was murdered because of his involvement in the anti-fascist movement and that Baburova was shot because she was a witness. The committee conducting the investigation, consisting of members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Ministry of Interior (MVD), are still looking for possible accomplices.

During preliminary hearings, the lawyer representing Tikhonov and Khasis made a series of requests that could have seriously affected the course of the trial: exclusion of evidence obtained by illegal methods, the taking of testimony from those who arrested Tikhonov, examination of the recording of the interrogation of the defendants on November 3, 2009 and the exclusion of testimony held to be extraneous to the case.

The investigating judge rejected most of these requests on the grounds that the examination of additional documents was unwarranted. The evidence assembled by the investigations already amounts to 28 volumes.

At the end of this week’s hearing, held on January 11, the judge ruled that the preliminary hearings were finished and that the trial proper will begin on January 27, after jury selection.

Date posted: January 19, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 168