On Tuesday, November 14, Russian media quoted Khadzhikurbanov’s lawyer, Alexey Mikhalchik, who explained that his client was first recruited as a prisoner, was later pardoned and now participates in the war as a contracted fighter. According to the lawyer, Khadzhikurbanov was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin six months after joining the army, in accordance with current Russian legislation.

Politkovskaya, a well-known Russian investigative journalist and political commentator, was found shot dead in the lift of her apartment building in Moscow in October 2006. She had extensively reported on the situation in Chechnya in the early years of Putin’s presidency and gained international recognition for her critical reports, which drew attention to human rights abuses committed by both the local authorities and independent groups. IPI named her a World Press Freedom Hero following her death.

“Russia’s decision to free the convicted murderer of a renowned journalist as a reward for taking part in its monstrous invasion of Ukraine is a reprehensible perversion of justice”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “IPI strongly condemns the release of Khadzhikurbanov, who, instead of serving his punishment for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, is now serving Russia’s illegal war. To make it all worse, Russian authorities have made no effort over the past 17 years to identify the masterminds behind Politkovskaya’s murder.” 

In a joint statement with Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya’s two children, Vera and Ilya, said they had not been notified about Khadzhikurbanov’s pardon. “For us, this ‘pardon’ is not evidence of atonement and repentance of the killer. This is a monstrous fact of injustice, a desecration of the memory of a person killed for her beliefs and for carrying out her professional duty,” the statement said.

Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer, was one of six people jailed over Politkovskaya’s murder. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, while the gunman, Rustam Makhmudov, received a life sentence.

While the direct organizers were convicted at the time, investigators never identified the person who ordered the killing. In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights determined that although authorities had convicted the group of men directly involved in the murder, they had “failed to take adequate investigatory steps to find the person or persons who had commissioned [it]”.

IPI has repeatedly called for a thorough investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder and to identify and prosecute all perpetrators involved in the crime, especially those who masterminded it. We renew that call today.