On July 10, in a penal colony on the outskirts of the city of Stavropol, a closed trial got underway for five individuals from the autonomous republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia–none of them ethnic Chechens–charged with blowing up two apartment blocks in Moscow in September of 1999. Following these enormous blasts, which killed an estimated 220-250 persons, Amelia Gentelman recalled in the July 16 issue of the Guardian, the Russian authorities, “instantly blamed Chechen rebels for the bombings, and the resulting climate of anxiety and panic generated huge popular support for the Russian government’s decision soon afterwards to invade the separatist state. Vladimir Putin… built his presidential election on the back of the tough, populist approach to the campaign in Chechnya.”
In an article entitled “A Terroristic Comedy,” appearing in the July 20 issue of Novye Izvestia, the well-known journalist Valery Yakov underscored: “The trial that the country has been awaiting for two years is closed, both for the press and for society.” Yakov went on to cite the recent case of Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in the United States for having killed 160 Americans in a bomb blast in Oklahoma City. “The U.S. special services,” Yakov noted, “did not conceal their success from society and cover up this affair. They were able to demonstrate the guilt of McVeigh and to offer convincing proof not only to the court but also to society…. In our case, everything is the opposite.” It has been reported that two Stavropol newspapers, Stavropol’skaya Pravda and Vechernyi Stavropol, have appealed to the Russian Supreme Court–so far without success–to open the trial to the public arguing that a closed trial violates the Russian Constitution, the Russian criminal code and the Russian law on the mass media (RFERL, July 26).