Protest raises fears over death of Politkovskaya

Click to follow

Prominent Russian opposition leaders and rights activists staged a rally in Moscow last night to mark what would have been the 49th birthday of the murdered investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, amid mounting concerns over political interference in the investigation into her killing.

Earlier in the day Russian prosecutors released two of the 10 suspects in the case who had been arrested last week and said that a third had no connection with the case in a move that will reinforce scepticism over the handling of the investigation.

Russia's chief prosecutor, Yury Chaika, had announced on Monday that 10 men were detained in connection with the 7 October shooting in the lift of Ms Politkovskaya's apartment building. Mr Chaika stated that the murder was carried out by a Chechen gang that specialised in assassinations, and linked it to the murder of Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov in 2004.

Meanwhile, the journalist's son, Ilya Politkovsky, said he was concerned the investigation had been politicised.

About 300 people gathered in the central Pushkin Square carrying photos of Ms Politkovskaya and placards that protested against the conflict in Chechnya. The speakers, including a frocked priest and a member of the Russian parliament, praised Ms Politkovskaya's intrepid reporting on the Kremlin's activities in Chechnya for the small newspaper Novaya Gazeta , and railed against the state.

The opposition leader Garry Kasparov said before the ceremony: " Polit-kovskaya, when she was alive, was a symbol of independent journalism, one of the bravest and most trustworthy journalists in the country. And we believe she was killed by the regime." He added that the prosecutor's implication that the London-based oligarch Boris Berezovsky was implicated was predictable. "In Putin's Russia, everything is connected with Berezovsky."

In his speech before a large photograph of Ms Politkovskaya, Mr Kasparov criticised the authorities for taking more interest in Moscow's forthcoming 860th birthday celebrations than the journalist's death.

Eduard Limonov, an eccentric figure who headed the National Bolshevik Party before it was banned for extremism, also said he had little faith in the investigation. "I think they chose people that simply ended up there, and they're trying to get something out of them," he said.

Such suspicions appeared to be confirmed yesterday when two suspects, both police officers, were released, Russian news agencies reported. And the lawyers of a third, police lieutenant Pavel Ryaguzov, protested in court that his arrest had nothing to do with the case. The Kommersant business daily quoted a source as saying he was in fact being held for beating a suspect.

A fourth suspect, a former police major, was in jail at the time of Ms Polit-kovskaya's murder, Kommersant said.

The Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov admitted there had been a foul-up, but said the reason was obvious. "It seems to me that there is someone trying to force the chief prosecutor to make a mistake. Maybe Berezovsky. Someone wanted to discredit the work of the chief prosecutor." Nevertheless, Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, said he and his colleagues thought the murderer was indeed among those being detained, although he would not reveal a name.

"Among these suspects is the person that killed Politkovskaya," he said. "I'm certain that the security services are connected. Before her death they were carrying out surveillance on her, following her, listening to her calls."

On Wednesday, Ilya Politkovsky expressed concern that getting a conviction had become subservient to political grandstanding. Reuters reported that there was a power struggle in the prosecutor's office. "I think these are political games," Mr Politkovsky told Reuters.