Rustom Makhmudov was detained on 31 May 2011 in Chechnya and charged two days later for the murder of journalist and human rights defender Anna Politkovskaya. This news comes almost 5 years after she was brutally shot at point-blank range while entering the elevator of her apartment building in the centre of Moscow where she lived in October 2006.
Anna was known for her fearless coverage of the conflict and human rights situation in Chechnya, and had thus been detained, threatened and even poisoned previously on a number of occasions. She was a journalist for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and had written extensively on abuses such as violence in the army, corruption in state structures, and police brutality.
Anna Politkovskaya’s murder in 2006 and the subsequent delay in delivering her justice exposed the impunity, lawlessness and violence against journalists and human rights defenders in Russia. Amnesty International thus considers the arrest of Rustom Makhmodov as “a major step towards justice” and is calling on the Russian authorities to ensure that he and any other accomplices to the murder receive a full, thorough and fair trial that meets international standards and practices.
A BBC world report quoted a lawyer for Politkovskaya’s family which did not agree that the arrest of Makhmudov was a major breakthrough since the investigators had yet to establish who had ordered the assassination. Hence, a detailed and effective investigation into this case will demonstrate the Russian authorities’ strong commitment to protect human rights defenders from harassment, intimation and violence in the country.
Amnesty International will be closely following the developments in this case and hopes that the arrest and charge in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is “not an isolated step” but rather a definite and deliberate move towards tackling impunity for such crimes in Russia. Looking forward, an important step for Russia would be to fully comply with its international commitments on freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly in the country.