Defendants in the murder trial of Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, (L-R) Ibragim Makhmoudov, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, Dzhabrail Makhmoudov, Rustam Makhmoudov and Sergei. Credit: Reuters
Five men received long prison terms on Monday for the killing of prominent Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya after a trial that failed to reveal who masterminded the Russian journalist's murder.
Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter who uncovered state corruption and rights abuses, especially in Chechnya, was gunned down in the lobby of her Moscow apartment block at the age of 48 on Oct. 7, 2006.
The Russian authorities deny any role in her death.
The case caused international outrage because of the brutality of the contract-style killing and the failure of the authorities - even now, after nearly eight years and several trials - to identify who commissioned it.
Kremlin critics and rights campaigners say it symbolises the weakness of the rule of law in Russia. "I will be satisfied only when the person or people who ordered this will be sentenced," said Politkovskaya's son Ilya.
The five men, convicted by a jury last month, exchanged smiles in the defendants' glass box before judge Pavel Melyokhin handed down the sentences.
He ordered life imprisonment for Rustam Makhmudov, found guilty of pulling the trigger, and his uncle Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, who organised the logistics. The other three received 12, 14 and 20 years.
Politkovskaya was one of 23 reporters murdered in Russia since 2000, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, and one of five from the same newspaper, the independent Novaya Gazeta. It is still running its own investigation into her death.
"For as long as the name of the mastermind is not known, there can be no talk of revealing the truth," said Nadezhda Prusenkova, a spokeswoman for the paper. "Today's sentencing is important, but only a step. They are the lowest level in this criminal chain, which must still be revealed and punished."
Tanya Lokshina, head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said that while the men were accused of killing for money, the trial had not established the ultimate motive for the crime.
"At this point in time, it really does not seem that the government and investigation authorities are serious about getting to the bottom of it," she said.
Federal investigators say they are doing all they can to find the mastermind.