Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Moscow, said: "Even if the defence account is correct, there is no guarantee that such sensitive information will ever make it into open court."

Judge criticised

Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Ibragim Makhmudov, brothers from Chechnya, are accused of helping arrange Politkovskaya's murder along with former policeman Sergei Khadzhikurbanov.

The three men are charged with being involved in the murder, but not with either ordering it or carrying it out.

Hull said: "It's been described by supporters of Anna Politkovskaya as a farce. In the dock sits neither the alleged killer, nor the person who ordered her murder, merely three men accused of involvement in the crime."

The trial of the three men, all of whom deny the charges, appeared in disarray on Tuesday after the prosecution demanded that Yevgeny Zubov, the judge, be dismissed from the case.

Pavel Ryaguzov, left, and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov at the trial in Moscow [AFP]
Musayev said that prosecutors had asked for Zubov to be removed after he lifted his own ban on media covering the trial.

"They consider that various organisational questions are having an influence on the judge's opinions," Musayev said.
 
Karina Moskalenko, a lawyer for the Politkovskaya family, also confirmed prosecutors had applied for the judge to be taken off the case.

Chaotic hearing

The request to remove Zubov was made during a chaotic hearing when journalists were first barred from the courtroom, then later let back in.

Journalists were then told to leave again so the court could discuss procedural issues.

Hull said: "The other surprise of the day was the judge's reversal of his own decision last week to throw the press out.

"But the presence now of journalists in court may prove too great a threat to the doubtless powerful interests that sought Politkovskaya's death.

"There are fresh suggestions the prosecution may seek to have judge Zubov removed from the case. With him, quite possibly, would go the media as well."

The judge also told the court he was dismissing one of the jurors, Yevgeny Kolyesov, for breaking rules barring discussion of the case in public.

The move came after the juror gave a radio interview last week challenging the judge's decision to exclude the press. 

Kremlin critic

Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin, was shot dead outside her apartment in Moscow two years ago, causing an outcry in the West over Russia's commitment to press freedom.

A 48-year-old mother-of-two, Politkovskaya had reported on human rights abuses in Russia's turbulent Chechnya region and elsewhere and had received numerous threats.

The trial of the three alleged accomplices in her murder is widely viewed as a test of Russia's justice system, which in the past has failed to put the main suspects behind bars in several politically charged murder cases.

Politkovskaya's family says the investigation is incomplete because the man they suspect of killing her, Rustam Makhmudov, is on the run and has not been charged.