One of the five men convicted over the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya has been pardoned after fighting in Ukraine, his lawyer says.
Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former Moscow police officer, was jailed for 20 years at a trial in 2014.
His lawyer, Alexei Mikhalchik, said the pardon came after he had completed a six-month military contract.
Ms Politkovskaya’s family and employer described the decision as a “monstrous injustice”.
Ms Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter and vocal critic of Russia’s war in Chechnya, was shot in a lift in her block of flats.
Her reporting for Novaya Gazeta newspaper won international renown for her dogged investigation of Russian abuses in Chechnya.
But her pieces, which were highly critical of President Vladimir Putin, then serving his second term, and the Chechen leadership, angered many in authority.
In a joint statement, the newspaper, along with Ms Politkovskaya’s son Ilya and daughter Vera, said none of them had received notice of the pardon, adding that no efforts were being made to bring to justice others who were responsible for the murder. It has never been determined who ordered the killing.
“For us, this ‘pardon’ is not evidence of the redemption and remorse of the murderer,” the statement said.
“It’s a monstrous fact of injustice and lawlessness, desecration of the memory of a person killed for her convictions and doing her professional duty.”
Khadzhikurbanov was found guilty of providing logistical support for the murder.
“As a special forces fighter, [Khadzhikurbanov] was invited to sign a contract to participate in the special military operation,” his lawyer told AFP.
“When the contract expired, he was pardoned by presidential decree.”
The Russian defence ministry has been recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine, apparently taking over from the Wagner mercenary group which was the first to adopt the practice last year.
At the murder trial in 2014, Rustam Makhmudov was given a life sentence for pulling the trigger.
His uncle Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, one of those found guilty of organising Ms Politkovskaya’s murder, was also jailed for life.
Makhmudov’s two brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim, were sentenced to 14 and 12 years in a penal colony.
The Kremlin has admitted for the first time to recruiting inmates to fight in the war against Ukraine, saying the recruits “are atoning for their guilt with blood,” a phrase first used by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin during World War II.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the admission on November 10 when a journalist asked him about comments by a Siberian family this week that questioned how it was possible that a man convicted of their daughter’s murder was now being treated as a hero in his hometown after receiving a pardon from President Vladimir Putin.
Peskov responded by saying a presidential pardon is possible when a convict accepts his or her guilt, asks the president for a pardon, and goes through a procedure approved by the Penitentiary Service, the regional or federal authorities, and the Central Commission on Clemency.
Russia’s military is copying the method used by the pro-Kremlin Wagner mercenary group by recruiting convicts directly from prisons to fight in Ukraine, according to UK intelligence.
The UK Ministry of Defence said in an update on Thursday that since the start of the year, Russia’s defense ministry has “ramped up a scheme to recruit Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine.”
It is likely that up to 10,000 convicts were signed up in April 2023 alone, it said.
Anna Politkovskaya’s killing and the initial investigation into it
Anna Politkovskaya was a well-known investigative journalist who made a name for herself covering alleged violations of human rights in the Chechen Republic committed in the course of the counterterrorism operation in the region, an operation widely known as the “Second Chechen War”. Ms Politkovskaya was also an adamant critic of President Putin’s politics.
On 7 October 2006 Anna Politkovskaya was fatally shot in the lift in her block of flats in Moscow. A Makarov pistol with a silencer and bullet cartridges were found on the stairs.
On the same date the prosecutor’s office of Moscow opened a criminal investigation in case no. 18/377485-06 under Article 105 § 2 (b) of the Russian Criminal Code (“murder of a person committed in connection with his or her professional or civic duties”). Later, the case was transferred to the department for the investigation of particularly important cases of the Prosecutor General’s Office for investigation.
At an early stage of the investigation investigators inspected the crime scene, collected footage from surveillance cameras located in the vicinity, and examined logs of telephone connections made in the area around the time of the killing.
On 9 October 2006 forensic experts established that the death had been caused by gunshot wounds to the victim’s head, chest and right leg. On the same date a death certificate was issued.
On 12 October 2006 the fourth applicant was granted victim status. Later, the third applicant received such status as well.
Seeking to discern the motive for the crime, the investigation studied Anna Politkovskaya’s critical publications to establish against whom they had been targeted. They also questioned Ms Politkovskaya’s colleagues, friends and family as witnesses. In the Government’s submission, as a result of such actions, the investigation established that Anna Politkovskaya had met “a well-known Russian former politician” in London, and that unnamed person had proposed that she publish articles “to discredit the leadership of the Russian State, which she [had] refused to do, to his dislike”.
On 27 August 2007 the Prosecutor General of Russia stated at a press conference that there had been serious progress in the investigation of Ms Politkovskaya’s killing, and that ten people had been arrested in connection with the investigation. Another official of the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that a certain P.R. had been arrested. On 28 August 2007 the Tvoy Den’ newspaper (“Твой День”) published a list of people arrested in connection with Ms Politkovskaya’s murder, and commented that there were known hitmen among those detained. On 29 August 2007 a press officer of the Moscow City Court (“the City Court”) disclosed to the public a list of ten people detained in connection with Anna Politkovskaya’s assassination.
In the course of August 2007 four people, D.M., I.M., S.Kh. and P.R., were arrested in connection with the assassination. Two brothers, D.M. and I.M., had made phone calls near Ms Politkovskaya’s building; their car had been seen leaving the area on the day of the killing. Later, the investigation established that fibres found in their car were identical to those left on the murder weapon. S.Kh., a police officer, was arrested on the basis of a witness statement by D.P., also a police officer. P.R. was an officer of the FSB (Federal Security Service) who had known S.Kh. for a long time.
In June 2008 D.M., I.M. and S.Kh. were formally charged with contract killing in conspiracy with others. S.Kh. was regarded as the leader of the organised criminal group. P.R. was charged in the same set of proceedings with abuse of powers and extortion.
At some point R.M., a brother of D.M. and I.M. whom the investigation suspected to be implicated in the assassination, fled Russia on a forged passport. As appears from the applicants’ and the Government’s respective submissions, the forged passport was issued by staff of a department of the interior.
At some point R.M.’s name was put on an international wanted list. On 16 June 2008 a criminal case against R.M. was severed from the case against S.Kh., P.R., D.M. and I.M.
In June 2008 the investigators prepared a case against S.Kh., P.R., D.M. and I.M. to be transferred to a court. The applicants requested that the case file remain with the investigators. In their view, the investigation was incomplete, and sending the case file to a court would be premature. Nevertheless, the case file was transferred to the Moscow Circuit Military Court (“the Circuit Court”) for a jury trial.