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Russian nationalist gets life for murder of lawyer, reporter

A Russian court sentenced an ultra-nationalist to life in prison on Friday for the 2009 murder of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova, a court spokeswoman told AFP.

His accomplice, who is his common-law wife, received 18 years in a penal colony, the spokeswoman for the Moscow city court added. Late last month a jury found Nikita Tikhonov guilty of committing the twin murders, and co-accused Yevgenia Khasis of complicity in the crimes.

Human rights lawyer Markelov, 34, and 25-year-old journalist Baburova, who worked for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, were gunned down in broad daylight on their way to the Moscow metro after a news conference on January 19, 2009.

The murders caused outrage in Russia and in the West, where authorities are openly alarmed that killers and their masterminds often go unpunished in this kind of violence.

Tikhonov and Khasis were arrested in October 2009 in a joint operation by investigators, special FSB services and interior ministry agents.

The FSB security service at the time said the two were members of a “small radical nationalist group” taking revenge on the lawyer for his role in defending the victims of racism and those involved in the Chechnya crisis.

Baburova, the Novaya Gazeta journalist, was wounded when she tried to stop the gunman, and died from her wounds at the hospital.

Observers say the stiff punishment is a rare victory for human rights campaigners.

Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s top opposition paper which in the past has lost several reporters including star journalist Anna Politkovskaya, praised the verdict.

“This is not revenge but a fair retribution for the committed crime,” newspaper spokeswoman Nadezhda Prusenkova told AFP.

“Investigators’ work was brilliant, they did a colossal amount of work.”

The two defendants’ jury trial started in January. The jury unanimously agreed that the accused should not expect leniency, but were split over Tikhonov’s role in the murder.

Lawyers for the accused said they would appeal the verdict.

Roman Karpinsky, an attorney for Markelov’s family, called the verdict “fair” and said he saw no grounds for it to be revisited.

Xenophobic attitudes have grown in Russia in recent years amid charges from critics that the Kremlin is courting nationalists on purpose.