Russia: Three years after Politkovskaya killing - Threat levels rising

New letter to President Medvedev urges action, as attacks continue

Human rights activists in Russia and the North Caucasus are facing increasing violence and intimidation three years after the unsolved murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Amnesty International said today.

In a new letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Amnesty has urged him to take urgent steps to end attacks on activists and for his administration to demonstrate a commitment to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice.

Amnesty International UK Secretary General Irene Kahn said:

“It is time President Medvedev showed the political will to protect people that stand up for human rights in Russia. He must act now to end the climate of fear and intimidation.

“That those who murdered Anna Politkovskaya and ordered her killing remain free reflects a failure by the Russian authorities to fully investigate such crimes.”

Recently, people who have spoken out against human rights violations in Russia - including human rights activists, lawyers and journalists - have been killed or faced intimidation as a result of their work. In January this year, Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who had been working closely with Ms Politkovskaya, was shot dead in Moscow. Anastasia Baburova, a journalist, was gunned down at his side.

Attacks against those working to protect human rights are especially common in the North Caucasus, said Amnesty. On 15 July, Natalia Estemirova of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, was abducted in the Chechen capital Grozny; her body was found the same day in Ingushetia. Ms Estemirova had received a number of threats in connection with her human rights work.

Estemirova’s killing took place in a climate where human rights activists have been verbally attacked by the Chechen authorities. In early July, for example, Adam Delimkhanov, a member of the Russian Parliament and a close ally of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, appeared on Chechen TV threatening “so-called human rights defenders, who support terrorists.” In an interview with Radio Liberty shortly after Estemirova’s murder, President Kadyrov himself dismissed her work as irrelevant and described her as a person who “never had any honour or sense of shame”.

Irene Khan added:

“It is of the utmost importance that the investigations into the killings of Natalia Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova and Anna Politkovskaya are conducted in an independent and impartial manner, and, where grounds exist, do not stop short of investigating possible links with government officials, including the highest government officials.”

Amnesty is meanwhile concerned about the safety of Ms Estemirova’s colleagues from Memorial offices in the North Caucasus and in Moscow. For example, Akhmed Gisaev - who had been working with Estemirova on an alleged extrajudicial execution in a Chechen village – has reported being followed and receiving death threats.

The spate of killings In Russia also includes the murder of Zarema Saidulaeva, head of the humanitarian organisation Let’s Save The Generation. On 11 August, along with her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, she was abducted from her office in Grozny by men identifying themselves as law enforcement officials. A few hours later they were both found dead in the boot of their car.

Meanwhile Amnesty expressed alarm at ongoing attacks against human rights groups. For example, the office of Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, was recently burned down. Two of its representatives - Svetlana Isaeva and Gulnara Rustamova - as well as other human rights activists, lawyers and journalists from Dagestan - have been named as supposed aiders and abetters of illegal armed groups in leaflets distributed in Makhachkala. The leaflet called for a “blood feud” against these people.

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