Russia may be shielding activist's killer: rights probe

14th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

A probe submitted to President Dmitry Medvedev into the murder of leading activist Natalya Estemirova said Thursday that the FSB security service could be shielding the true mastermind of the attack.

The award-winning campaigner for the Russian rights group Memorial died due to shots to the head and chest on July 15, 2009, after being seen bundled into a car outside her home in the crime-infested 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 during a Kremlin human rights commission meeting this month and disclosed to the media on Thursday concludes that the "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.

Rights groups have previously accused the authorities of trying to cover up what they suspect is a political killing.

But it marks the first time such findings have been handed to Medvedev and comes ahead of the March presidential elections in which either he or his mentor Vladimir Putin -- an ex-FSB chief -- will run.

Medvedev has not said anything about Estemirova since receiving the findings.

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

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.

"For now, all we can say with certainty is that an unidentified man who left traces of sweat on Estemirova's blouse and who is suspected of her abduction is neither Alkhazur Bashayev nor (his brother) Anzor Bashayev," the report said.

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

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.

Estemirova was investigating the alleged public execution of a man by the Chechen police a week before her death.

"I still think that Ramzan Kadyrov bears direct responsibility... if only because he says that human rights defenders were accomplices of the rebels and that all accomplices of rebels should be removed," Memorial's Oleg Orlov said on Thursday.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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