Russia acquits rights activist of slandering Chechen leader

14th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

A Russian court on Tuesday acquitted a prominent rights campaigner of slander after he accused Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov over the 2009 murder of rights activist Natalya Estemirova.

Memorial's head Oleg Orlov had accused the strongman leader of being morally responsible for the murder of Estemirova, saying he was guilty irrespective of who ordered the killing.

Moscow's Khamovnichesky magistrate's court acquitted Orlov, saying in the judgement that "an analysis of the documents of the criminal investigation shows that no crime was committed," Russian news agencies reported.

Estemirova, 50, was found dead with gunshot wounds to the head and chest in the Caucasus region of Ingushetia hours after she was seen being bundled into a car outside her home in the Chechen capital Grozny in July 2009.

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.

Orlov said he was satisifed by the verdict, calling it a tribute to Estemirova.

"We cannot bring her back, it is a terrible loss, but with this ruling we have fulfilled some debt of memory," he was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

Kadyrov's lawyer Andrei Krasnenkov announced he intended to appeal the verdict, describing it as "unfair (and) incorrect" after asking the court to jail Orlov for three years, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Orlov had said in a statement released following Estemirova's abduction in Chechnya that: "I know, I am sure who is guilty of Natalya Estemirova's murder, we all know him -- his name is Ramzan Kadyrov."

"We do not know if he gave the order himself or his close associates did so to please their boss," Orlov said, adding that Kadyrov had "threatened Natalya, insulted her and considered her a personal enemy."

Kadyrov harshly criticised Estemirova after her death, saying that she was "devoid of honour."

In an earlier separate ruling, a Moscow court in October 2009 ordered Orlov to pay Kadyrov symbolic damages of 20,000 rubles (then around $670) over his comments on Estemirova's killing.

© 2011 AFP

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