Defence witnesses to speak at the trial of Russians in Qatar

Defence witnesses will speak at the next session of the court hearing of two Russians accused of the assassination of Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev on Thursday, Russian Consul Maxim Maksimov said by telephone.

The consul did not say which witnesses are meant but noted that the three witnesses suggested by lawyers of the Russians had been turned down by the prosecution. But the court nevertheless decided to listen to two of the three defence witnesses (the one witness whom the court rejected was Consul Maksimov).

Debates will begin on Thursday after the court hears the witnesses, said the consul who attends all sessions. The hearing is held in camera at the request of defence.

Ilya Levitov, press secretary of the lawyer firm Yegorov, Puginsky, Afanasyev & Partners, which represents the interests of the two Russians in the Qatar court, refuted the reports by some Russian media according to which information about the trial is becoming ever more secret. "We are trying to keep the public informed about everything that happens at the trial," said Levitov. "We make public everything that does not constitute legal secret and does not infringe on the interests of the detainees and their families."

Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who had lived in Qatar in the past three years, was blown up in his Toyota Land Cruiser in Doha on February 13. In the night of February 18/19, the Qatar security services arrested three Russians who were in Qatar on a business trip on charges of involvement in Yandarbiyev's assassination.

One of the detainees, the first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Qatar who enjoyed diplomatic immunity, was released and returned to Russia on March 24. The other two were officially charged with premeditated murder on February 26.

Moscow demands the release of the two Russians on grounds that their arrest was unjustified. According to the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the two Russian citizens "were in Qatar for legitimate reasons and were fulfilling anti-terrorist information and analytical tasks that did not violate the local legislation."

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