Monday, March 16, 2009

Russian reporter's son reflects on her killing

Megan K. Stack
Los Angeles Times
March 12

Reporting from Moscow -- The two-year hunt for the killers of acclaimed Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya hit a dead end last month when three men accused as accessories were found not guilty and set free. With the gunman still at large and no indication of who might have ordered or paid for Politkovskaya's October 2006 slaying, the jury's verdict was held up by government critics as proof of the fruitless pursuit of justice in the case. Prosecutors have appealed the verdict, and the investigation continues. On Wednesday, The Times interviewed Ilya Politkovsky, the journalist's 30-year-old son, in Moscow. He maintains that the police and prosecutors failed to prove their case to the jury.

Since the acquittal, there has been little news about the case. What's happening?

There's an appeal from the general prosecutor's office; they are saying that the verdict should be overturned. We are not supporting the appeal. We fully agree with the jury verdict. The problem was the investigation, not the jury. If my mother had been on this jury, she would have done the same thing.

Were you in Moscow when your mother was killed?

I was going to my mother's house to help her to bring up the bags. You know, she was shopping. I couldn't reach her on the phone, but I was going there anyway. It was usual for my mother to drive very slowly and not answer the phone. When I got there, there were lots of police and the entrance was completely blocked already. The police didn't let me in because they didn't know who I was. So after they looked at my passport, they told me what happened.

How has your family coped since her death?

I had to represent her memory, talking to journalists as well as traveling around, because most of the events happen outside of Russia. Most of the people in Russia don't understand what happened. People who every day watch government channels, read government newspapers, they are in a kind of warm bath. This is the biggest part of the Russian population. For many years they've been seeing propaganda and they're getting their salaries every month, and that's enough for them. For them, my mother's work was like something from another planet. And I'm not blaming them. This is the current Russian situation. Now we can speak about the small part of the Russian population that was really interested in the case. . . . These people read Novaya Gazeta, listen to Echo of Moscow, a quite different kind of people. . . . For many people, my mother was a soldier. I don't really like that, but I understand it's true. . . . I lost my mother, not a soldier or a journalist.

How much contact did you have with investigators, and what was your impression of their work?

I think they were doing their jobs professionally, but then they dumped all their evidence in a big pile. They had 48 big files and it was 70% garbage. Two, three, four files of interrogations of neighbors, people who were walking past on the street. It's got nothing to do with the people on trial. The jury heard a lot of things in the courtroom that had nothing to do with the defendants. I don't believe these 48 files were done by mistake, but I still have no idea of the motivation. That's why we're not supporting the appeal -- because it's stupid to go back to court again with the same case. For example, in the indictment they say those two brothers were following my mother for two days before the murder. But they weren't. They were there only on the [day of the killing]. One of the brothers was in his university, with plenty of witnesses around.

People close to the case have said there was official tampering, that somebody was blocking the investigation. Do you have that sense as well?

Yes, we have this sense but we still don't have the reason.

Other prominent Russians have also been killed in similarly mysterious executions. Do you believe there is a link among the cases?

I don't have proof of that. The situation in Russia, with such people as [human rights lawyer Stanislav] Markelov, [journalist Anastasia] Baburova, my mother, they are thought of as annoying flies. The attitude toward the victim is, "OK, he's dead, who cares?"

What does your experience with investigators and courts indicate to you about the status of justice in Russia?

The problem was the pretrial investigation. I think they've been doing the same job for many years without juries and they still don't know how to do it for juries. They're used to preparing cases for judges. Now some people are saying this will be the last high-profile case for a jury. Already I saw on the Internet lots of former officials saying the Politkovskaya case proves that the jury is not capable of trying such high-profile cases.

Did you ever get any condolences from the Russian government?

None. Nothing. Not a word.

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