Relatives, friends and colleagues of slain Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya gathered on Pushkin Square for a candle-lit commemoration of her life Thursday, which would have been her 49th birthday.The meeting came on a day Russian media reported that two of 11 suspects arrested in connection with her murder on Oct. 7 had been freed, while five others had complained of being abused during their detention.
Thursday evening, about 250 people gathered in a small corner of the square, much of which was crowded with stages and equipment already in place for the weekend’s City Day celebrations.
Among those who attended were opposition politicians, including United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov; Eduard Limonov, a leader of the Other Russia movement; and Vladimir Ryzhkov, the leader of the now-defunct Republican Party, as well as Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.
“A bullet always gets the last word in an argument,” Kasparov said. “The government chose to use that bullet.”
After the ceremony, part of the group walked to nearby Lesnaya Ulitsa, where Politkovskaya lived in the apartment building in which she was shot dead.
A young boy lit about 10 candles in front of the entrance to the building, and posters with Politkovskaya’s picture and the slogan “You Can’t Kill the Truth” were taped to the walls.
“Today is a really sad day,” said her son, Ilya Politkovsky, 28. “It’s the first birthday without my mother. We spent some time at the cemetery this morning. It was very overwhelming.”
A poster on the wall with verses, based on a folk rhyme, insulting President Vladimir Putin was ripped down by a passing police officer, but quickly taken back by Maya Kofmann, a member of the group. She taped the poster back up, and the police officer just walked away.
“She was a wonderful journalist,” Kofmann said. “Her writings will be remembered always.”
Shortly before the group broke up, around 9 p.m., Politkovskaya’s former colleague, Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov, walked up to the building, placed flowers outside the entrance and, after a short pause, walked away.
Muratov arrived late because he had been at the Prosecutor General’s Office providing evidence to help in the murder investigation.
New details continued to surface from the investigation Thursday, with Kommersant reporting that two of the 11 suspects arrested — private security guard Alexei Berkin and police officer Oleg Alimov — had been freed Tuesday.
Berkin and Alimov shadowed Politkovskaya in the days leading up to her murder and were detained Aug. 16, the newspaper said. They were held in custody for the maximum 48 hours without charges, after which a court granted prosecutors 10 days to present more evidence of their guilt. The paper said the two were freed because the 10-day period had expired.
Murad Musayev, a lawyer representing one of three ethnic Chechen brothers arrested, told Gazeta.ru that one had been beaten during police questioning.
“They beat one of the Makhmudov brothers over the head with a bottle, shouting: ‘We will caress you more,'” Musayev said. The brothers were identified in the Russian media as Tamerlan, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov.
One brother told police that he was in Chechnya with his parents when Politkovskaya was shot, while the eldest was in a hospital around the time, though he could not remember exactly when, Musayev said. He called the charges against the brothers “complete fabrications.”
Investigators believe the brothers, along with two other ethnic Chechens, Akhmed Isayev and Mamoged Dimelkhanov, planned the logistics of the murder, Kommersant reported.
Dimelkhanov allegedly received the order for the hit from an unknown source in Chechnya and recruited the Makhmudov brothers, who, in turn, enlisted the help of Isayev. The exact roles of each — including who, if any of them, actually pulled the trigger — remained unclear, the newspaper said.
The Moscow City Court had sanctioned the arrest earlier this month of former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, but he was subsequently released. Prosecutors let him go after it was discovered that he was in prison at the time of the shooting, Kommersant reported.
Khadzhikurbanov was convicted of planting evidence on a suspect and sentenced to four years in prison in 2004. He was released in December 2004 — two months after Politkovskaya’s murder — for good behavior.
Another suspect, Federal Security Service lieutenant colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, was already under arrest for another offense when he was detained earlier this month, RIA-Novosti reported.
Little is known about two other people remaining under arrest — Dmitry Lebedev and Dmitry Grachyov. Kommersant reported that they were Moscow police officers.
Politkovskaya’s tireless reporting on alleged torture and kidnappings by government troops in Chechnya won her international acclaim before her murder last year.
Prosecutor General Yury Chaika earlier this week accused Russia’s enemies abroad of ordering the murder to hurt the country’s reputation.
The Moscow Times 30.8.2007
By David Nowak