Anna Politkovskaya's son speaks out after activists barred from Moscow trip

Head of Reporters Without Borders denied visa for event to mark third anniversary of the campaigning journalist's murder

The son of the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya today accused the Russian authorities of "stupidity" after they prevented the head of the press freedom organisation, Reporters Without Borders, from travelling to Moscow.

Jean-François Julliard, the general secretary of Reporters Without Borders, had been due to take part in a news conference today commemorating the third anniversary of Politkovskaya's murder. But he was unable to travel after Russia refused him a visa.

A second representative from Reporters Without Borders, Elsa Vidal, was also barred. Politkovskaya's daughter Vera described the decision by the Russian government as "extremely strange" and "absolutely not understandable This appears to be political."

Politkovskaya's son, Ilya, added: "It's really stupid. I think Reporters Without Borders is not an organisation you need to be afraid of."

He conceded the decision to blacklist the press freedom body was probably made by "middle-level foreign office officials".

The move raises further doubts about Russia's willingness to solve Politkovskaya's murder after she was shot dead, on 7 October 2006, by a professional killer in the lift of her Moscow apartment block.

In February four suspects accused of involvement in her murder were acquitted, following a bungled prosecution case.

Russia's high court called for a fresh murder inquiry earlier this year. So far, Russian investigators have failed to identify the person who ordered her killing – known in Russian as the zakazshik – or the alleged hitman, a Chechen man called Rustam Makhmudov.

In February a jury cleared two of Makhumdov's brothers of involvement, as well as a former Moscow police officer and a member of Russia's FSB spy agency.

"Time is running out. The more time passes the less chance there is to find the people who took part in my mother's killing," Vera said.

Asked whether she was optimistic that the killer would eventually be brought to justice, she said: "The most important thing is that there should be no [state] interference.'

Russia's investigative committee claims Makhumdov has fled Russia and is hiding somewhere in western Europe.

Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta ‑ the opposition newspaper where Politkovskaya worked – said Makhmudov was "nearly" arrested in April. He gave no further details. He also said investigators had identified other "suspects".

Today's anniversary follows a dismal year for journalists and human rights activists in Russia. In July the activist Natalia Estemirova – a close friend of Politkovskaya's – was abducted from her home in Grozny, Chechnya. She was shot dead in neighbouring Ingushetia. Following her murder Novaya Gazeta said it would no longer maintain a correspondent in Chechnya.

In a statement issued from Paris today, Julliard said he had intended to come to Moscow to show solidarity with Politkovskaya's family and colleagues.

"We wanted to be there all the more this year, as it has been a terrible one for journalists and human rights activists with the surge of violence in the North Caucasus, a region that Anna knew particularly well," he said.

He added: "We are shocked by this decision, especially as we have always acted openly with the Russian authorities. They decided to prevent us from expressing our solidarity with Russian journalists and human rights activists. Moscow does not want us to address the Russians directly. But we will not give up."

Memorials are taking place tomorrow in several European capitals to commemorate Politkovskaya's life and mark the anniversary of her murder.

The journalist's sister Elena, who lives in London, is organising a meeting at St Bride's church in Fleet Street. There will also be meetings in Paris and Moscow.

A total of 22 journalists have been killed in connection with their work in Russia since March 2000. "To our great regret there is a culture of total impunity with regard to crimes against journalists," said Tikhon Dzyadko, Reporters Without Borders' representative in Moscow.

Russia was ranked 141st out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.


Luke Harding in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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