Activists angry after Chechen's 'enemy of people' jibe

8th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has named prize-winning Russian rights group Memorial as "enemies of the people", in comments that pose a direct threat to its activists, the group said Thursday.

At a press conference to remember its slain activist Natalia Estemirova, Memorial head Oleg Orlov said he did not rule out halting work in Chechnya in the wake of Kadyrov's comments in an interview with Chechen television.

"This is a clear and direct threat. It's very dangerous. This is without question a signal to officials and to the law enforcement forces in Chechnya to start taking action against rights workers," Orlov told reporters.

"Some will take these words from their leader as an indictment of concrete individuals -- our friends -- as outlaws," he said, adding that Kadyrov had made similar threats ahead of Estemirova's murder one year ago on July 15.

In the July 3 interview, translated from Chechen by Memorial, Kadyrov dubbed employees of Memorial "enemies of the people, enemies of the law and enemies of the state."

"Be it Orlov, be it the women and men of Memorial from (the Chechen town of) Gudermes... What have they done for the region? They're payed large salaries by the West and, to account for their activities, they write any shit and rot," Kadyrov was quoted as saying.

Memorial and other rights groups called Thursday for the Kremlin to respond to the comments, saying failure to do so implied collaboration in targeting human rights workers.

"This is our question to the Kremlin: how can you explain this? How is the Kremlin going to react to such declarations?" asked Tanya Lokshina, an activist with Human Rights Watch in Moscow.

The charges come a day after Orlov was accused of libel by a criminal investigation into his allegations last year that Kadyrov was responsible for Estemirova's murder.

A Moscow court had already ordered Orlov pay a fine and issue a retraction, but the new charges carry a maximum sentence of three years' jail in Russia.

Estemirova, 50, was found dead in July with gunshot wounds to the head and chest, hours after she was seen being bundled into a car outside her home in the Chechen capital Grozny.

She was one of Memorial's main employees in Chechnya and had won worldwide acclaim for uncovering rights abuses. Her death prompted tributes from around the globe and calls on Russia to find the killers.

"What we see with Estemirova and with this criminal probe against our work is that the Russian authorities are after the same thing as the Chechen authorities: They want a servile civil society," Memorial activist Svetlana Gannushkina said.

Kadyrov is a hugely controversial figure, praised by the Kremlin for restoring some stability to Chechnya but hated by rights activists, who accuse him of letting a personal militia carry out kidnappings and torture.

© 2010 AFP

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