MOSCOW - Lawyers for hostages held in last year‘s Moscow theatre siege by Chechen rebels won wider press access to their landmark compensation case on Thursday, but failed in a bid to challenge the judge‘s authority. Claims by former hostages, already running to nearly 60 million dollars and likely to rise further, are unheard of in Russia where compensation rarely exceeds several thousand dollars. The case is widely seen as setting a precedent.
After considerable deliberation, the judge finally lifted access restrictions for the written press, but maintained a ban on filming inside the courtroom. Press coverage is critical for a case seen as a legal test for an article of Russia‘s law on terrorism stipulating that victims of a guerrilla attack should seek compensation from the authorities of the region where it took place. No such claims have been made before.
But the court rejected Trunov‘s motion to dismiss the judge and switch the case to a higher court or one outside the capital. The city provides certain perks for largely underpaid judges and that could lead to bias, the lawyer said. Trunov said 61 suits had already been filed against Moscow city authorities both by relatives of hostages killed in the attack and those who survived it. Of some 800 theatre-goers seized by Chechen guerrillas last October 129 died, nearly all from the effects of a gas Russian special forces used to knock out the rebels minutes before they stormed the building.
With the law banning damage suits against security bodies, the victims sought compensation from Moscow authorities. The city has rejected the claims, saying it had neither the money nor the desire to pay for something it was not responsible for. The total amount of compensation sought by the victims has already exceeded 59 million dollars, a record for such cases in Russia. Reuters