Russian convicted in journalist's murder pardoned after serving in Ukraine

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A man who was convicted in Russia for involvement in the 2006 murder of prominent investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya has received a presidential pardon after fighting in Ukraine, according to his lawyer and local media reports. Former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014 for helping to organize the assignation of Politkovskaya, a reporter with the Novaya Gazeta newspaper who was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.

Politkovskaya was a vocal critic of Russia's war in Chechnya, and while her thorough investigations of Russian military abuses during that conflict received international recognition, they also angered Russian authorities.

Khadzhikurbanov's lawyer, Alexey Mikhalchik, told Russian news outlets that his client was pardoned after serving a six-month contract on the front lines in Ukraine, and that he had since signed another contract to continue serving in the military.

"He worked in special forces in the 90s, he has experience, which is probably why he was immediately offered a command position," Mikhalchik told the Russian business news outlet RBC.

Khadzhikurbanov and four other men were sentenced in 2014 over Politkovskaya's murder, but it was never determined who ordered her killing.

Russian human rights activists attend a rally in honor of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on October 7, 2010.  / Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty
Russian human rights activists attend a rally in honor of slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on October 7, 2010. / Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty

"Neither the victims nor the editors were informed about the killer's pardon. Just like they aren't informing us about how they are looking for the rest of the killers — and above all, the person who ordered it. [That's] Because they are not looking and because [the killers] are being covered for," Novaya Gazeta said in a statement Tuesday.

"For us, this 'pardon' is not evidence of atonement and repentance of the murderer. This is a monstrous fact of injustice and arbitrariness, an outrage against the memory of a person killed for her convictions and professional duty," the newspaper's statement added.

The Russian military has increasingly relied on convicts to supplement its depleted military units amid a protracted Ukrainian counteroffensive. Prison recruitment has supplied the Russian army with tens of thousands of fighters, according to prisoners' rights advocacy groups, enabling the Kremlin to avoid another mass-mobilization of recruits after the initial effort to call up ordinary Russians in late 2022 proved hugely unpopular. Thousands of young Russian men fled the country to avoid conscription.

In recent weeks, Russian media have reported on multiple instances of convicted murderers in high-profile cases being released after serving only a fraction of their sentence after serving on the front lines, including Vladislav Kanyus who served less than a year of his 17-year sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Vera Pekhteleva.

Kanyus reportedly tortured Pekhteleva for hours, inflicting 111 stab wounds and choking her with a cord.

Pekhteleva's mother Oksana told local media that her family was shocked by the news of Kanyus' pardon, saying: "This is a spit in my face, and at those mothers whose [children] were brutally killed in the same way. There are so many of us all over the country, we don't know what to do. This comrade may still be fighting, but some killers already walk free, and these mothers see them. How is it possible to live with this?"

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