Qatar: Yandarbiev murder hearings to resume-Russians in the dock

Zelimkhan Yandarbiev assassination court hearings are to resume in Qatar, Thursday next, Ilya Levitov said to Novosti. He is press secretary to the defendants' lawyers-the Moscow-based Yegorov, Puginsky, Afanasyev & Partners. The suspects are Russian nationals.

The court is expected to question witnesses for the defence, May 13. A Russian lawyer who was removed from the courtroom, May 6, has been authorised to attend further hearings. Whatever might be said, the Qatari court had sufficient reasons to expel the lawyer, who was prompting his client to refuse to make a statement, Mr. Levitov explains the situation. In fact, the lawyer came out as interpreter for his client and another counsel for the defence, a Qatari with no spoken Russian. The judge said the Qatari lawyer alone was presently to communicate with the defendant, and so ordered his Russian colleague to leave the courtroom.

Mr. Levitov suspects the move came as a vengeful stab for an incident of the day before, when one of the defendants refused to answer the court's questions in protest after he was not allowed to see his file and meet his lawyer.

The public is barred from the courtroom on the defence's request-a turn which has made numerous Russian-based media outlets complain of information about the hearings ominously getting ever scantier. They are wrong, Ilya Levitov said to Novosti. Information has not been stifled, and will never be, he vouched. The defence is making it a point to keep the public abreast with the case, and passes to newsmen all facts except professional secrets and matters involving the interests of the defendants or their families, he stressed.

Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, prominent Chechen separatist, had been resident in Qatar for three years before the Doha tragedy of February 13, when his boobytrapped Toyota Land Cruiser blasted.

Qatari secret service officers detained three Russian nationals in the small hours, February 19, on suspected assassination involvement. All the three were in Qatar on mission. One of the detainees, First Secretary of the Russian Embassy, was promptly released due to diplomatic immunity, and came back to Moscow, March 24.

The others were indicted, February 26, on suspected premeditated murder, unauthorised storage of explosives, and another seven charges.

Russia deems the arrest ungrounded and insists on its citizens released. According to a Foreign Ministry statement, their sojourn in Qatar was perfectly legal. Involved in the anti-terror cause, the men were collecting and analysing related information in close compliance with the host country's laws.

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