Russian leader acccused over activist’s death

Estemirova, pictured in 2007, had been openly critical of Chechnya's president, Ramzan Kadyrov.
The head of a leading Russian human rights group accused the presidents of Russia and Chechnya of complicity in murdering their top activist in Chechnya.

“I am confident about who killed Natalya Estemirova. We all know this person. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov, President of the Chechen republic,” Oleg Orlov, the chairman of the Russian human rights group Memorial said on the group’s Web site Thursday. “Ramzan was intimidating and insulting Natalya, and considered her his personal enemy. We don’t know whether it was him personally who ordered her [murder] or it were his aides who wanted to please their boss. As far as (Russian) President (Dmitry) Medvedev is concerned, it seems that he doesn’t mind having a murderer as head of one of the Russian regions.” Estemirova, 50, was kidnapped outside her home in Chechnya Wednesday, Orlov said, citing eyewitnesses, and found dead in the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushtia later the same day. The winner of three international human rights awards, she was a leading activist in the North Caucasus area who had been openly critical of Kadyrov and his methods. Kadyrov vowed Thursday that he would personally oversee the investigation and assure her killers were punished. “She couldn’t have enemies among reasonable people,” he said in a statement on the Chechen government Web site. “Those who took away her life have no right to be called humans, they don’t deserve any mercy, and should be punished as the most cruel criminals. “I have no doubts whatsoever that those who ordered and conducted this crime will face trial,” he said. “That is the very least that the government and society must do in commemoration of Estemirova.” Medvedev said Thursday the murder was “a very sad event,” adding it was “absolutely clear… her murder is linked to her professional activities. “Her type of professional activity is needed by any normal state. She did very useful things. She spoke the truth, she openly, sometimes harshly assessed some types of processes that occurred in our country, and this is the value of human rights workers. Even if they are not comfortable,” Medvedev said Thursday on a visit to Germany. His host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, warned the killing could affect Russian-German relations. “This is an unacceptable event and especially if we want to intensify the relations between our two countries it cannot remain unsolved,” she said in a joint appearance with Medvedev. Medvedev had earlier condemned the murder and said her killers should punished to the full extent of the law, his office said. Estemirova shouted that she was being kidnapped as she was forced into a white Lada automobile that had stopped on the road in front of her house on Wednesday morning, Orlov said. An unidentified man grabbed her and shoved her into the car, Orlov told CNN. Top United States and British officials condemned the killing. “Such a heinous crime sends a chilling signal to Russian civil society and the international community and illustrates the tragic deterioration of security and the rule of law in the North Caucasus over the last several months,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.

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Russian human rights activist kidnapped, killed

“Natalya was a tireless crusader for the rights and dignity of all individuals,” U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle said in a statement, calling her one of Russia’s “most remarkable citizens.” “Natalya understood the danger of her work in Chechnya, but refused to be intimidated. Natalya’s courage and dedication are sources of inspiration; she will truly be missed. We fully support every effort to bring those responsible for this cowardly crime to justice. Natalya would expect that of us,” Beyrle said. “Estemirova’s work in the field of human rights was internationally renowned,” British Foreign Office minister Glenys Kinnock said, saying she was sad, troubled and indignant at the killing. In a written statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States is “deeply saddened” by the report of Estemirova’s death. “We call upon the Russian government to bring those responsible to justice,” he said. He described Estemirova as “uncompromising in her willingness to reveal the truth regardless of where that might lead. She was devoted to shining a light on human rights abuses, particularly in Chechnya.” The Committee to Protect Journalists, in a written statement, demanded that the killing be thoroughly investigated immediately. “As she uncovered massive, ongoing human rights violations in Chechnya by the federal and regional authorities, Estemirova was often at odds with Chechen authorities, according to her colleagues,” the advocacy group said. “President Medvedev must make good on his promise to investigate this shocking killing by ensuring that the inquiry is thorough and transparent,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The killers of this courageous reporter, one of the few left in Chechnya, must not be allowed to walk free like so many before them.” She won three international awards for human rights activities — including the inaugural Anna Politkovskaya Award, named for the Russian investigative journalist who was herself murdered almost three years ago. Estemirova was Politkovskaya’s “most frequent companion during travel and investigations in Chechnya,” the organization Reach All Women in War said in announcing the prize for Estemirova. “They investigated a number of cases together — about which Anna wrote for (the newspaper) Novaya Gazeta and Natalya wrote for Memorial’s Web site and for local newspapers.”

Estemirova studied history at Grozny University, then taught history before turning to journalism and human rights in 1998, Memorial said. She joined the organization in March 2000.