A St. Petersburg court on Thursday convicted Vitaly Akishin on charges of firing a gun that killed liberal State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova in the stairwell of her apartment building in 1998, and sentenced him to 23 1/2 years in prison.
Former military intelligence officer Yury Kolchin, who was charged with organizing the murder, was also convicted and sentenced to 20 years, while four other suspects were cleared. A second gunman, who was dressed as a woman, and two other suspects in the high-profile murder remain at large.
Two more suspects are to go on trial soon, while the identity of the person who ordered the killing remains unknown.
Starovoitova, the outspoken leader of the Democratic Russia party, was 52 years old when she was shot dead in her St. Petersburg apartment building on the evening of Nov. 20, 1998. She was struck by three bullets.
Ending a 2 1/2-year trial, the St. Petersburg City Court found Akishin and Kolchin guilty of conspiring to kill a political figure in order to end her political and public activities.
Yuly Rybakov, a human rights advocate and former political ally of Starovoitova's, said the prison terms were too short, especially since the men could earn early release for good behavior in a few years.
"Such light sentences basically mean that all these people will be released in 10 years and will continue killing people for political reasons," he said.
Liberal politicians on Thursday urged the authorities to find out who had given the order.
"The value of life, even of a well-known politician, has sharply fallen today," said Sergei Ivanenko, a leader of the Yabloko party, Interfax reported. "And that is largely because the work of law enforcement agencies ... has shown either a lack of will or an inability to determine the people who order political murders."
"It can't fail to give us satisfaction that the killers got what they deserved, ... but it's bad that the people who ordered this politically motivated crime remain unidentified," said Boris Nadezhdin, a leader of the Union of Right Forces party.
Only one person has ever been convicted of ordering a murder in the handful of killings of prominent figures in post-Soviet Russia. Mikhail Kodanyov, who headed a wing of the Liberal Russia party that supported businessman Boris Berezovsky, was convicted in March 2004 of ordering the 2003 murder of Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, who headed a rival faction of Liberal Russia that had voted to expel Berezovsky.
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
Informing the public about issues in this area that receive little coverage in the Western media.
Staging peaceful demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns in support of specific causes.
Supporting and publicising nonviolent pro-democracy groups throughout the region.
Encouraging European and American involvement.
Support the Belarusian cartoonists
Third Way, the Belarusian organisation whose members are being prosecuted for producing satirical cartoons about Lukashenka,
have set up a web page where you can make a donation via PayPal. The group urgently
need money for their legal defence and operating expenses. Please give what you can today! Read more
We are continuing to focus our efforts on the Belarusian prisoner of conscience Mikhail Marinich.
We are campaigning for him to receive proper medical treatment, to be permitted to see his family,
and ultimately to be released from prison pending a review of his case. You can help by distributing
our factsheets and letters.
Members of these groups have joined our blog to share their views and experiences.