Politkovskaya suspect arrested in Chechnya

 

The man suspected of shooting Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia's best known and most fearless journalists, has been arrested at his family home in his native Chechnya.

Russian authorities believe that Rustam Makhmudov shot Ms Politkovskaya four times in the stairwell of her apartment block as she returned from a shopping trip nearly five years ago. Ms Politkovskaya worked for Novaya Gazeta, the opposition-minded Russian newspaper which is part-owned by Independent proprietor Alexander Lebedev. She wrote about corruption and human rights abuses across Russia, but was best known for her dispatches from Chechnya. Her hard-hitting reportage on rights abuses and torture under the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin's man in Chechnya, made her many enemies, but Russian authorities have yet to discover who was responsible for ordering her killing.

Until recently, Mr Makhmudov was believed to be hiding in Belgium, and there were suggestions that the Belgian authorities had provided information that helped to lead to yesterday's arrest. Two of Mr Makhmudov's brothers have already been tried for aiding and abetting the murder. A court found them innocent in 2009, in a controversial trial that was marred by the absence of Rustam Makhmudov – the man who allegedly pulled the trigger. A former policeman, accused of providing surveillance ahead of the murder, was also acquitted at the same trial.

Ms Politkovskaya was killed on 7 October 2006, the birthday of Vladimir Putin, then Russia's President and now the country's powerful Prime Minister. Mr Putin drew criticism for failing to condemn the killing immediately, and later suggested that it may have been carried out by Russia's enemies abroad, who wanted to cause problems for the Kremlin.

Friends and colleagues of the murdered journalist welcomed the arrest, but the real test for Russian authorities will be whether they can bring to justice the person who ordered the hit. In the last decade there have been dozens of attacks on journalists in Russia. Natalia Estemirova, a human rights worker in Chechnya who took up many of the cases that Ms Politkovskaya had written about, was kidnapped outside her house in 2009 and later found dead. No arrests have been made. Like Ms Politkovskaya, Ms Estemirova was a fierce critic of Mr Kadyrov, whom rights groups accuse of personal involvement in torture. He has denied involvement in either of the killings. "I don't kill women," he said in an interview after Ms Politkovskaya's murder.

Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, said yesterday he hoped the arrest would lead to the "truth" in the case coming out. He said having a real person accused of the crime, rather than a fugitive on the run, would hopefully enable the court to get to the bottom of who ordered Ms Politkovskaya's killing.

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