Vienna, March 11 – The failure of a Moscow District military court jury last month to convict those charged with involvement in the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya may have had less to do with the skill of defense attorneys than with materials the government offered that appear designed to discredit her, according to a Moscow commentator.
When a jury refused to bring in a guilty verdict against those Russian prosecutors had charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Politkovskaya, many of her supporters were disappointed, but some expressed hope that the action of the jury might put pressure on the regime to offer up others bearing greater responsibility for the crime.
But this reading of what might be seen to constitute a uniquely Russian version of “jury nullification” may be entirely too optimistic, according to an analysis in today’s “Moskovsky komsomolets” which argues that the accused got off because prosecutors so blackened Politkovskaya’s reputation that jurors may have concluded that she had it coming.
Vadim Rechkalov says that a close examination of the record, including a slide show the government offered suggests that prosecutors, reflecting the views of their bosses, were more interested in discrediting her than in gaining a conviction of those against whom they had brought charges (www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2009/03/11/society/398908/).
The Moscow analyst bases his suggestion on various frames of a video presentation the investigators prepared for the jury, frames that he suggests were intended to play on the emotions of the jurors and lead them to conclude that Politkovskaya was an enemy of Russia who had taken out American citizenship and was paid by foreign agencies.
In his article, Rechkalov discusses only the first few frames, “that part of the document in which the investigators discredit the murdered journalist before the jurors” or “to put it more simply, slandered her. Slandered her joyfully and cynically,” even before the lawyers for the defense went to work.
The first frame, he reports, is “completely correct.” It simply gives her name, date and place of birth, her employment history, and certain other details. But in the second frame, the contents, which have to do with her dual citizenship, are “also true but presented in such a way that they look worse than a lie.”
Politkovskaya, the page reads, “had dual citizenship – Russian-American (the latter she received in 1998 already under Yeltsin).” Not only is the reference to Yeltsin intended to suggest that such things would not happen under Putin, but the slide goes on to reproduce the oath someone takes to become a US citizen, one that implies she could not criticize the Americans.
The following slides list some of the prizes she received for her journalistic work, prizes which are strongly suggested to have provided her with both income and the incentive to write negative pieces about Russian activities in the Caucasus. But there are two problems with that, Rechkalov says.
On the one hand, the amounts of money involved were generally quite small, and Politkovskaya did not even receive some of the prize money listed. And on the other, at least one of the prizes that Russian investigators listed as having been given her -- the Walter Gamnius For Civic Courage Prize -- does not in fact exist.
Rechkalov, however, was able to track down where the reference to this prize came from: a novelistic treatment of Russian life which included a journalist named ALLA but not ANNA Politkovskaya who had received just such an award. Indeed, Rechkalov continues, the author of that piece of fiction admitted that in an email to him.
(Rechkalov does not mention it, but these actions of today’s Russian prosecutors recall the ending of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s well-known story about the organs in Soviet times. In the late writer’s tale, an NKVD officer gives the wrong name for something the authorities are tracking, although the policeman says “we never make mistakes.”)
So “what feeling should this information elicit from the jurors?” Rechkalov asks. Here is Politkovskaya --“an American citizen, who sold out the Motherland for an American passport and who lived on money from that thief Khodorkovsky and foreign governments who paid her enormous sums so that they would cover Russia with dirt.”
And in case that wasn’t enough for the jurors, the slides reproduced in full Vladimir Putin’s observation that Politkovskaya’s murder for the Russian leadership brought much greater harm than her publications,” a statement that for many of the jurors probably carried with it more than one meaning.
Rechkalov’s analysis is both original and deeply troubling. Less original but even more troubling is his conclusion: “The murder of Politkovskaya was political. And the person who ordered it is beyond the reach of the Russian legal system.” And by making sure that the case is not solved, Moscow may find it easier to negotiate with other, more “dangerous” opponents.