Blaming the Jury System
It can’t have surprised anyone vaguely familiar with Russian politics these days to learn, from Kremlin bagman Alexei Pankin in the pages of the Moscow Times, that the Putin regime plans to use the Politkovskaya trial acquittal to lay the Russian jury system in its grave.
What could be the possible reaction of the prosecution when it loses face? The only option is to question the effectiveness of the jury system, especially because this is not the first time when jurors acquitted defendants who were widely believed to be guilty. A good example is the case of Vladimir Kvachkov, who was suspected of organizing an assassination attempt against 1990s privatization architect Anatoly Chubais. The inevitable conclusion government officials will draw now is: “The Russian people are not yet ready for the jury system.” Feb. 19, 2009, will go down in history as either the day marking the birth of fair jury trials in Russia or as the day marking the beginning of their demise.
But there is some hope. The Kremlin wanted convictions so it could say it won justice for Politikovskaya while allowing both the trigger man and the string-puller to walk free. It didn’t get them, and its legal system was exposed as breathtakingly incompetent. Pankin writes:
Just how desperately prosecutors wanted a guilty verdict is evident from the fact that at the last minute they called Sergei Sokolov, Novaya Gazeta‘s deputy editor, to the witness stand. At the same time, the official version of events was adjusted to reflect Novaya Gazeta‘s independent investigation into the killing, amounting to a tacit admission that the newspaper’s journalists had done a better job of investigating the case than the state. But it was too late. The prosecution lost anyway.
But this humiliation will no doubt be acceptable tothe Kremlin if it can pervert the result into an indictment of the jury system, which it has already abolished for charges of treason, and use that leverage to obliterate the entire system. Such an action, in the name of Politikovskay, would be blasphemy against humanity itself the like of which even the USSR never managed to attain.