Russia may be shielding activist killer: rights probe

14th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

An independent report submitted to President Dmitry Medvedev into the Caucasus murder of activist Natalya Estemirova said Thursday the secret services may be shielding the mastermind of the attack.

The award-winning campaigner for the Russian rights group Memorial was slain with shots to the head and chest on July 15, 2009 after being seen bundled into a car outside her home in the Chechen capital Grozny.

The group was one of the few to work in the war-ravaged region and had previously reported harassment from gunmen loyal to the Kremlin-appointed leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Medvedev said on the one-year anniversary of the politically sensitive case that authorities had "uncovered" the 50-year-old activist's killer and were looking for those who ordered the attack.

But an independent report submitted to Medvedev earlier this month and disclosed to the media on Thursday concludes that "investigation is on the wrong track".

"We are getting the impression that the secret services were employed at an early stage of the probe to concoct a false version that could lead investigators away from the true killers of Natalya Estemirova," the report said.

It said the one person named by the investigation -- a Chechen rebel identified as Alkhazur Bashayev -- could not have acted on his own even if he had played a part in the attack.

Bashayev was identified as a member of an Islamist organisation and reported killed in November 2009.

The rights report was co-authored by investigative reporters at the Novaya Gazeta newspaper -- a paper whose own Chechnya writer, Anna Politkovskaya, was killed in 2006 -- and Memorial along with the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Kremlin human rights commission member Svetlana Gannushkina said on presenting the findings to Medvedev last week that this was an "alternative report" into the murder from the one now being used by Russian officials.

Kadyrov had previously sued Memorial for linking him to the murder and also dismissed suggestions that his forces were behind the 2006 shooting of Novaya Gazeta's Politkovskaya, who wrote extensively on abuses in Chechnya.

A Moscow court last month acquitted Memorial member Oleg Orlov of defamation after two years of hearings.

Global disapproval of Russia's failure to find the culprits in the high-profile murder has haunted Medvedev at international summits and remains an irritant in Moscow's relations with the West.

Chechnya's 34-year-old leader was a former rebel himself who joined forces with the Kremlin and came to head the volatile region after the slaying of his father and previous president Akhmad Kadyrov in 2004.

His rule has been accompanied by repeated accusations of police abductions and torture of his various foes. But his years in power have also seen the Kremlin regain control over a region plagued by clan warfare and crime.

Western rights groups issued a separate statement registering their disapproval with the Kremlin's progress in the investigation.

"Two years after Estemirova's murder, there are more questions than answers about the circumstances surrounding her killing," said Hugh Williamson of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"The situation for human rights defenders in Chechnya is no better today than it was two years ago," Nicola Duckworth of Amnesty International added in a statement.


© 2011 AFP

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