A man convicted for his role in the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya has been pardoned after fighting in Ukraine, according to his lawyer and local media reports.
Politkovskaya, who was well known for reporting on abuses in Russia’s war in Chechnya early in Vladimir Putin’s presidency, was shot dead outside her flat in Moscow in 2006.
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The killing triggered an outcry in the West and underlined the growing dangers of reporting in Russia as Putin gradually clamped down on independent media.
Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014 for organising the killing.
“As a special forces fighter, [Khadzhikurbanov] was invited to sign a contract to participate in the special military operation… When the contract expired, he was pardoned by presidential decree,” Khadzhikurbanov’s lawyer Alexei Mikhalchik told the AFP news agency.
Khadzhikurbanov was convicted along with four other men from Chechnya, a mostly Muslim region in the northern Caucasus where Russia and its local allies crushed two rebellions, in 1994-96 and, under Putin, in 1999-2009.
In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that, while the authorities had found and convicted a group of men who had directly carried out the contract killing, they had “failed to take adequate investigatory steps to find the person or persons who had commissioned the murder”.
Politkovskaya, who did much of her work for the independent investigative magazine Novaya Gazeta, now banned in Russia, won more than a dozen international prizes for reporting on abuses committed in Chechnya by Russian and allied forces as well as by rebels, despite repeated detentions and death threats.
Many Russian prisoners have been sent to fight in Ukraine since Moscow launched its offensive last February, with critics warning some have committed new crimes after returning from the front.
The Kremlin last week acknowledged the use of prisoner recruits to fight in Ukraine and said convicts who “atone for their crime on the battlefield with blood” could be pardoned.
“They are atoning with blood in storm brigades, under bullets and under shells,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
Russia has probably recruited 100,000 people from prisons to fight in Ukraine, Olga Romanova, the head of an independent prisoners’ rights group has estimated.
Local Russian media outlets have reported several instances of released prisoners going on to commit serious offences, including murders, after having left the army.