Sunday, July 19, 2009
Russia, Chechnya: Rights activist Natalya Estemirova murdered
By Miriam Elder in Moscow
Published: 8:34PM BST 15 Jul 2009
Natalya Estemirova, who won numerous international awards for her work, was bundled into a car as she left her home in Grozny, the Chechen capital. Her body was later found by the side of a road in the neighbouring province of Ingushetia. She had been shot twice in the head at close range.
Mrs Estemirova, a single mother in her early 40s, was the seventh opponent of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed Chechen president, to have been murdered in the past 10 months.
Her colleagues at Memorial, which is widely regarded as Russia's most respected human rights organisation, alleged that Mr Kadyrov was responsible for the killing.
"Ramzan Kadyrov is responsible, not only because he leads Chechnya," alleged Oleg Orlov, Memorial's director. "He threatened Natalya, told her that her hands would be covered in blood and that he destroys bad people.
"We didn't say this before because we were scared for her safety." Mr Kadyrov's spokesman said he was unaware of the activist's disappearance.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, was said to have been "indignant" over the killing but there was no response from Mr Putin, the prime minister, who appointed Mr Kadyrov to restore order in the troubled republic. Mr Putin was criticised in 2006 after he remained silent for three days following the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who campaigned on injustices in Chechnya.
Mr Kadyrov has denied accusations that he ordered the killing of Mrs Politkovskaya, insisting that he did not "kill women".
In the past 10 months many of his rivals have been found dead after killings in Vienna, Istanbul, Dubai and Moscow.
Although she was not a political rival, Mrs Estemirova was one of the few figures in Russia who dared to expose abuses in Chechnya.
Hours before she died, activists held a press conference that called for Mr Putin's prosecution before an international criminal court.
Mrs Estemirova had also just published a report that accused members of the Kadyrov administration of carrying out revenge killings.
Friends said the activist had become increasingly fearful for both herself and her 15-year-old daughter.
"She was working on very sensitive cases and realised the danger," said Tatyana Lokshina, a fellow activist.
Memorial called for the removal of Mr Kadyrov, who was appointed deputy prime minister in 2004 and ascended to the presidency in 2007 after reaching the legal age of 30.
Accusations of disappearances, revenge killings and other abuses have dogged his regime. Critics accuse the Kremlin of turning a blind eye to the alleged crimes, in exchange for stability brought to a republic that fought two separatist wars with Moscow in the 1990s.