A Moscow military court has begun an initial closed-door hearing in the trial of the suspects in the shock murder of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov last year, a lawyer said.
Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and one of the most prominent critics of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down on the evening of February 27, 2015, as he walked across a bridge from the Kremlin.
Five suspects – all reportedly Chechens – are currently in detention and face up to life in jail if convicted.
They deny any guilt.
Russian investigators have described the killing, whose brutality horrified the world, as a hit ordered by a low-ranking Chechen official and other “unidentified” suspects.
The session began at Moscow District Military Court after Russian investigators announced last month they had completed their probe.
Police closed off part of the pedestrian street next to the court and did not allow journalists or others to approach, Tass state news agency reported.
Lawyer Vadim Prokhorov, who represents Nemtsov’s family, told AFP that he would submit “numerous requests” to the court, particularly on selecting the jury for the trial itself, which should be open to the public.
Preliminary hearings were set to continue today at 1000 GMT when the court was to rule whether there will be a jury trial, as the defendants have requested.
The five defendants have been named as Zaur Dadayev, Shadid and Anzor Gubashev, Bemirlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev.
According to investigators, a Chechen security official named Ruslan Mukhudinov – who has been identified as the ringleader but has fled abroad – approached the other men in September 2014 and offered them 15mn roubles (about $235,000) to commit the murder.
Nemtsov’s family and allies say the authorities have failed to bring the masterminds to justice and point the finger of blame at Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, as well as the Kremlin itself.
Kadyrov had a long-running feud with Nemtsov and has made calls to eliminate Russia’s “enemy” opposition.
Yesterday lawyers representing Nemtsov’s family asked for the case to be sent back to prosecutors and the charge to be reclassified as murder of a public figure aimed at halting his political activities.
Protesters held solo pickets outside the court with slogans on placards including “Question Kadyrov. Reinvestigate the case”, and “Name the masterminds in Boris Nemtsov’s murder”, Grani.ru news website reported.
Mukhudinov has reportedly served in a Chechen unit called Sever which supported Kadyrov, a Kremlin loyalist.
Denied access to the pro-Kremlin state media, Nemtsov had become a marginal figure in Russia but he remained a thorn in the side of the authorities.
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