Politkovskaya Case Exposes Lack of Independence of Russia’s Courts

Last week the local Polish newspaper Dziennik Polski published an interview with Jadwiga Rogoza from the Eastern Studies Centre, who spoke about the problem of judicial independence in Russia’s legal system as showcased by the current trial of Anna Politkovskaya’s killers. According to her, Russian courts are not independent as they take the Kremlin’s opinions into consideration when passing their decisions, and that this lack of independence damages the country’s image and risks criticism from the West. Below is an exclusive translation, the original source can be read here.

Russian courts are not independent

Interview with JADWIGA ROGOŻA from the Centre for Eastern Studies

Why did the court in Moscow decided to close Anna Politkovskaya’s murderers’ trial to public?

Trial was closed on jurors request. We can only speculate on the true reasons behind that decision. In my opinion the decision was taken under the pressure of the authorities, who are reluctant to publicise new developments on the case. It seems strange, as Russian public isn’t interested in Politkovskaya’s case. All the authorities get from closing doors on the trial is more criticism from opposition and the West.

Is there any chance murderers will be punished?

There is a chance. Few man are facing the charges, even though oneof the accused is still at large, away from Russia. Judging byprosecutors’ files those present in court really had something to dowith murder of the journalist. On the other hand almost everyonerealise, that they were only following orders. Person who orchestratedthe killing has never been named. Even the prosecutors suggested theyprosecute tools, but the trails leading to other participants gonecold. The case will remain unsolved.

For whom was Anna Politkovskaya inconvenient?

She was a trouble for many people and groups of interest in Russia.She spent years investigating the war in the Caucasus, frauds in thearmy, corruption. She criticised Russian authorities. She was adedicated investigator of different pathologies and misdeeds.

Are Russian courts independent?

– Courts, just like other institutions, firms or media, are notindependent. Judges understand exactly what country they work in andalways take Kremlin’s opinion into account. It doesn’t mean thatauthorities influence every single trial, but when it comes to highlypublicised cases, their opinion is binding. Current Russia doesn’t haveindependent government bodies or institutions. If some of them remainindependent, it only means they are completely insignificant.

Dmitry Medvedev talked a lot about the need to improve Russian justice system during his election campaign.

– As a candidate Medvedev presented liberal program, he talked a lotabout democratisation in different spheres. Nevertheless it seemedunlikely that a person appointed by Vladimir Putin could destroy basisof the system created by the latter. Former President fully trustsMedvedev, who already proved he wants to continue his predecessor’spolicy. Medvedev hasn’t fulfilled any of the important promisespresented in his program yet. Actually he did quite the opposite -changes he implements (like prolonging President’s term) are only goingto strengthen current authorities. We really shouldn’t expect him tocarry out his declarations on justice system reform.

Interviewer: Paweł Stachnik

Photo: Suspects in the 2006 slaying ofjournalist Anna Politkovskaya, sit in court in Moscow, Monday Nov.17,2008, before the court ordered that they must stand trial in opencourt, for their alledged involvement in the killing. Seen behind barsare the accused, from left, Pavel Ryguzov, Sergei khadzhikurbanov,Ibragim Makhmudov and Dhzabrail Makhmudov, while Said Arsanezayev,lawyer of Ibragim Makhmudov, sitting 4th right, and Murad Musayev,lawyer of Dzhabrai Makhmudov, sitting 3rd right, look through papers.The suspects being tried on murder charges are former Moscow policeofficer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, and Makhmudov brothers, Ibragim andDzhabrail. Prosecutors say the man accused of pulling the trigger,Rustam Makhmudov, has fled the country. Others unidentified. (AP Photo/ Sergey Ponomarev)