A prominent Russian human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, has been found dead, hours after being kidnapped in Chechnya. “The body had two wounds to the head, it was clear she had been murdered in the morning,” said a spokeswoman for the Chechen interior ministry.
The chairman of the human rights group Memorial, Oleg Orlov, reported that four men had forced Estemirova into a car in Grozny as she left her home on Wednesday morning. He said witnesses heard her yell that she was being abducted.
Orlov called Estemirova’s death an extrajudicial execution. “Those who killed her do not want what is going on in Chechnya to be known outside the region,” he said. “I know who is behind this killing, who is to blame. I can give his name and title: Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Chechnya.”
Estemirova’s body was later found near Nazran, the capital of neighbouring Ingushetia, with wounds to the head, according to the Chechen interior ministry. While working for Memorial, Ms Estemirova collected evidence of human rights abuses in Chechnya since the start of the second war there in 1999.
New-York based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Estemirova was abducted as she was working on “extremely sensitive” cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya. “There is no shred of doubt that she was targeted due to her professional activity,” said Tanya Lokshina, HRW’s Russian researcher in Moscow.
Ms Estemirova, a single mother in her early 40s and a professional freelance journalist, won several awards for her human rights work. In 2007, she received a prize named after slain investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya whom she worked with.