Russian human rights lawyer, reporter murdered in Moscow

21st January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Russian and international human rights groups expressed concern over the killings and urged Russian authorities to conduct a thorough and immediate investigation.

Moscow -- A masked gunman on Monday killed a human rights lawyer who exposed one of the most notorious cases of abuse by the Russian army in Chechnya, together with a journalist who died later in hospital.

Law enforcement sources confirmed that lawyer Stanislav Markelov had been gunned down on a busy street in central Moscow. The journalist, Anastasiya Baburova, a 25-year-old intern for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was hospitalized with a bullet wound to the head.

Novaya Gazeta confirmed the death of Baburova in hospital on Monday evening.

"The doctors did everything in their power,” the paper said on its website. “A few minutes ago, Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasiya Baburova died."

"The investigation is studying various theories on the killing, including a link to the deceased's professional activities," the prosecutor's investigative department said, speaking about Markelov’s death.

Baburova had written a number of reports on Russia's growing problem of racism and ultra-nationalism for Novaya Gazeta. Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in 2006, also worked for the paper.

"The murder in the center of Moscow of a man, of a lawyer involved in cases of political importance, has as much significance as the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya," said human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Russian and international human rights groups expressed their concern over the killings and urged Russian authorities to conduct a thorough and immediate investigation.

"We are shocked by the murder,” the Memorial rights group in a statement. “We call for an immediate and efficient investigation."

Human Rights Watch (HRW), the US-based watchdog also denounced the murder, saying the international community should push Moscow to bring the killers to justice.

"Russia's international partners, especially the European Union, should urgently press the Russian authorities to bring to justice those responsible for these killings," said Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.

Markelov and Baburova had just emerged from a press conference given by Markelov on the latest turn in the case of Elza Kungayeva, the 18-year-old Chechen whose strangling by Russian army colonel Yury Budanov in 2000 became a cause celebre -- highlighting systematic abuse by the Russian army in the war in Chechnya.

Budanov was released from jail on Friday after serving most of his 10-year sentence for the young Chechen woman's murder.

Markelov vowed to challenge the granting of early release to Budanov, who was convicted in 2003 after intense pressure for a conviction by human rights activists. Ultra-nationalists, meanwhile, rallied to Budanov’s side.

Budanov's release also prompted street protests in Chechnya, attended both by human rights activists and representatives of the region's Moscow-backed authorities.

Kungayeva's father, Visa Kungayev, told Moscow Echo radio that Markelov had recently received death threats.

The murdered lawyer had also provided legal help for Politkovskaya, whose work centered on the war-torn region of southern Chechnya, where Russia has fought two full-scale wars since the 1991 Soviet collapse, said Novaya Gazeta.

RIA-Novosti news agency quoted a police source as saying evidence had already been gathered from witnesses of the killing, who testified that the gunman had lain in wait as Markelov gave the lunchtime press conference.

"The killer chose his moment, when there weren't many people in the way, quickened his step and shot the lawyer in the back of the head,” said the police source. “The murder was committed in broad daylight in front of dozens of people."

While large-scale hostilities have ended in Chechnya, low-level attacks on Russian forces there take place regularly and a number of incidents testify to continued aftershocks.

The murder last week in Vienna of a Chechen refugee, Umar Israilov, has prompted claims that the killing was politically motivated, although Austrian prosecutors say they have no evidence of this.

Nick Coleman /AFP/Expatica

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