Another human rights activist murdered

Natalia EstemirovaA 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.

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  1. The brutal assassination of Natalia Estemirova was a horrible and cowardly crime and an attack against fundamental human rights principles, said Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg. “The killing of Mrs Estemirova is a reminder that much stronger actions are needed to protect activist members of human rights organisations,” Mr Hammarberg concluded.

    Commenting on the murder of Natalia Estemirova, Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis asked: “How many more Natalia Estemirovas and Anna Politkovskayas must be killed before the Russian authorities protect people who stand up for the human rights of Russian citizens?”

  2. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is outraged at the murder of Chechen-based human rights campaigner Natalia Estemirova and has ordered an investigation, his spokeswoman said. Medvedev ordered the head of the Prosecutor General’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, to carry out an investigation into Estemirova’s murder.

    As it happens, Bastrykin was in Chechnya only a few days ago. Russian press reports, citing sources in the Chechen interior ministry, said Bastrykin took part in the “interrogation” (read:torture) of rebel commander Rustaman Makhauri, charged with involvement in the attack on the Ingush president Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.

    Makhauri, who was badly wounded, was then paraded on Chechen television. The Caucasian Knot reported that he was subdued and spoke with a quiet voice. Chechen media reported that Makhauri “recognised his mistake and called on rebel leader Dokka Umarov to surrender.”

  3. As expected, both Chechen and Russian leadership is trying to lay the blame for the murder of Natalia Estemirova on those opposed to the current regime.

    Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov rang Oleg Orlov, director of the human rights organisation Memorial, who had directly accused Kadyrov of Estemirova’s murder.

    Kadyrov told Orlov that he had no interest in seeing Estemirova dead, and that she may have been killed by people who wanted to “frame” the Chechen and Ingush leadership.

    A German journalist asked Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who is on an official visit to Germany, that should not investigators look into Kadyrov’s role in the murder.

    Medvedev responded by saying that those who committed the murder specifically hoped that these sort of “primitive” versions detrimental to those in power would gain say.

  4. Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov will sue the human rights organisation, Memorial, for libel, according to Kadyrov’s lawyer Andrey Krasnenkov.

    Krasnenkov will submit a claim against Memorial’s director, Oleg Orlov, for violating Kadyrov’s “honour, dignity, and business reputation.”

    Earlier, Orlov, accused Kadyrov directly of responsibility for the murder of human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.

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