Zaur Dadayev (R) and Khamzat Bakhayev, two of five people convicted of involvement in the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, stand inside the defendants' cage during their sentencing hearing at the Moscow military district court, Russia, July 13, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

A court in Moscow today handed down a verdict in the murder case of Boris Nemtsov, the prominent opposition leader and former deputy prime minister of Russia who was brazenly killed just outside the Kremlin's walls two and a half years ago. Zaur Dadaev, accused of pulling the trigger, was sentenced to 20 years in jail; his four accomplices received prison sentences ranging from 11 to 19 years. The defendants deny their guilt and will appeal the sentence. Regardless of whether they actually carried out the killing, proper justice has still not been served. While the judge described Nemtsov’s murder as a contract killing, the ruling makes no reference to those behind it. The masterminds have gone unpunished.

Nemtsov, one of the strongest opposition voices in Russia, spoke out powerfully against government corruption. In 2013, he published a scathing report on massive corruption in the preparations for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. At the time of his death, he was working on a report on Russia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine. He was also a vehement critic of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s ruthless strongman, who, with the tacit blessing of the Kremlin, gradually built a tyranny there, eradicating all forms of dissent through brutal repression.

On the evening of February 27, 2015, Nemtsov was walking with a woman over a bridge near the Kremlin when a car pulled up next to them, and a male passenger shot him at least four times. The murder investigation quickly identified seven suspects, four of whom were either active or former members of Chechen law enforcement and security agencies; the others were either also from Chechnya or of Chechen origin.

The authorities arrested five of the suspects, but have been unable to even question a key suspect, Ruslan Geremeev, who at the time of Nemtsov’s murder was serving as deputy commander of a law enforcement battalion in Chechnya that is under Kadyrov’s control. According to numerous media reports, Geremeev is currently in Chechnya. Geremeev denied any involvement in Nemtsov’s killing and Kadyrov, who spoke of the suspects fondly, hinted that he had been framed.

Legal experts and observers have criticized the nine-month-long murder trial as perfunctory and flawed. Today may have delivered a verdict, but a key suspect still hasn’t been interrogated, and the masterminds of this brazen murder are walking free.