Russia defends probe 2 years after activist's murder

15th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian investigators issued a rare defence Friday of their probe into the murder of a top rights campaigner two years after her abduction in Chechnya.

Activists marked the anniversary of 50-year-old Natalya Estemirova's slaying by revealing details of an independent inquiry they had submitted earlier to President Dmitry Medvedev.

It accused the FSB security service of shielding the true culprits by concocting evidence to support a false theory that she was killed by Islamists.

Russian investigators rejected the allegation, saying they had firm evidence to support suspicions of Islamist involvement but refusing to provide a point-by-point defence of their murder theory.

They also extended the deadline of the preliminary investigation until November 15 -- the latest in a series of such delays.

"At the moment, the investigation does not see fit to speak of the specific evidence its has in this criminal case. This could substantially harm the results of the investigation," the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

"However, it should be said that the evidence gathered by the investigation points to the indisputable involvement" of the Islamist suspects.

Estemirova worked for Memorial, one of the few organisations to operate in the war-ravaged North Caucasus region. It had previously reported harassment from gunmen loyal to the Kremlin-appointed leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

She was the group's chief researcher in Chechnya and had reported on a public execution by the local police force the same month she was killed.

Memorial suspects either the local security forces or even Kadyrov himself of involvement. Its own probe said the FSB was trying to incriminate local Chechen Islamists while ignoring evidence pointing to other figures.

Estemirova's bullet-riddled body was discovered dumped near a road in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia after she was abducted in the Chechen capital Grozny.

Her death came three years after the unsolved killing of Anna Politkovskaya -- the Novaya Gazeta correspondent who repeatedly exposed violent crimes and corruption in Chechnya -- and marked another in a string of violent deaths of Kremlin critics.

The Muslim republic of Chechnya was ravaged by two wars in the post-Soviet era and is now controlled by Kremlin-backed Kadyrov forces that rights groups accuse of regular violations.

© 2011 AFP

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