Monday, March 09, 2009

Thoughts on Politkovskaya

Obiter RU has reserved judgement on the February acquittal of Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Sergei Khadzhaikurbanov over the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. It did so as it was and obviously remains an emotive subject, and the dust had to settle before we got any sense out of those involved.

Perhaps predictably, the standard response to date can be characterised as follows:
- It is symbolic of the lack of rule of law in Russia;
- It is reflective of political involvement in the Judicial process;
- It is indicative of the failure of jury trials;
- It is indictment of the Procuracy and its poor evidential standards;
- That her death was the work of foreign conspirators inspired to destabilise the current regime and the verdict itself is thus a side show (one of the more unbalanced points made by intellectually unchallenging Kremlin parrot Peter Lavelle).

In the given case these points are moot if, with the exception of the latter, valid concerns that merit attention. We argue that it is encouraging that an acquittal was awarded at all. The General Procurator and his staff were placed under immense political pressure to secure a conviction. The general public was convinced if not of the defendants' specific complicity in this crime, then of their general complicity in criminality. An acquittal under such circumstances is indeed rare and ones hopes is indicative of some measure of independent judicial discretion and the objectivity of the jury trial in the face of external pressures.

Perhaps not a resounding victory but a sign that there remains some measure of resistance and independence in the legal system. If one is optimistic, as Obiter RU remains, this may mean that the Procuracy will have to improve their evidential standards and levels of professionalism in order to secure what their leadership considers politically desirable or expedient.