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17.07.2018

Politkovskaya murder inquiry ‘inadequate and violated human rights’ – top court says

By Emil Weber

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on 17 July 2018 that the investigation into the murder of prominent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya violated the European Convention on Human Rights and was characterised by procedural inadequacies.

Anna Politkovskaya Anna Politkovskaya 2005 in Leipzig (copyright: Blaues Sofa, Anna Politkovskaja im Gespräch mit Christhard Läpple, CC BY 2.0)

The Third Section of the court decided, by five votes to two, that the domestic Russian investigation amounted to a violation of Article 2 of the Convention, the right to life.

Politkovskaya worked for the Russian newspaper Nowaja Gazeta, and in 2005 she was awarded the Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media of the Media Foundation of the Sparkasse Leipzig. Politkovskaya was shot dead in Moscow on October 7th, 2006.

Politkovskaya’s family - mother, sister and two children - were awarded 20,000 euros of compensation in non-pecuniary damages.

Article 2: right to life

1. Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.

2. Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this Article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary: (a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence; (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; (c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.

Anna Politkovskaya had been writing about human rights violations in the Chechen Republic and was a critic of President Vladimir Putin. She was murdered in the lift of the apartment block where she was living.

Absence of genuine and serious investigative efforts

The ECtHR said the domestic investigation up until 2015 led to “the conviction of five persons directly responsible for the killing” in court proceedings. Based on documents submitted by the Russian Government, it also found that the investigation into Politkovskaya’s killing “has not been terminated”.

The Strasbourg-based court said “it is not persuaded that the investigation into Anna Politkovskaya’s killing has met the adequacy requirement”. In particular it said that there was an “absence of genuine and serious investigative efforts taken with the view to identifying the intellectual author of the crime, that is, the person or people who commissioned the assassination”.

“The Court [...] possesses scarcely any information regarding the scope of the investigation in the present case in so far as it has concerned the identification of those who commissioned the crime. The Russian Government did not provide it with any documents from the investigation file”, it said. “The Government merely stated that the investigation had never been suspended or terminated”.

The Court added that the domestic investigation satisfied itself with a hypothesis that the murder was commissioned by “a well-known Russian former politician in London” and there was no explanation as to “why the investigation chose to focus for a considerable number of years on this single line of inquiry”. It further said that allegations of involvement by the Federal Security Service (FSB) or Chechen Republic officials were not were not explored.

The ECthR ruled in addition that the investigation was unjustifiably lengthy.

“The Court is not convinced that the Russian Government have provided convincing and plausible reasons to justify the length of the proceedings”, the ruling read. “In particular, their reference to the number of volumes of the investigative file and that of witnesses questioned appears irrelevant in the absence of tangible results in the investigation in respect of those who commissioned the killing that has continued for many years”.

Case of Mazepa and Others v. Russia, application no. 15086/07. 17 July 2018





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