Activists asks Medvedev for safety from Chechen leader

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The Kremlin's human rights council appealed Tuesday to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to protect activists in the Caucasus after Chechnya's leader likened them to "enemies of the people".

In an open letter to Medvedev, members of the body said Ramzan Kadyrov's condemnation of leading Russian rights group Memorial was a threat to its activists in Chechnya and flouted Kremlin efforts to engage in dialogue with civil society.

"The statement by the Chechen president is nothing other than a direct and clear threat," wrote the group, headed by activist Ella Pamfilova and which also includes media personalities and policy experts.

Rights veteran Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group and Memorial activist Svetlana Gannushkina, who also heads of the Civil Assistance committee, were among the letter's 13 signatories.

The appeal said Kadyrov had made similar "attacks" particularly targeting Memorial's leading Caucasus campaigner Natalya Estemirova last year just before her murder after being abducted from her home in Chechnya on July 15, 2009.

Such public denunciations, it said, was a license for violence against Memorial employees by the Chechen security forces -- whom activists accuse of acting with impunity in kidnappings and torture while battling an Islamist insurgency.

"We are very worried about the fate of our colleagues. The public naming of rights workers as 'enemies of the people, enemies of the law, enemies of the state' could lead to new tragic events," the group said.

The letter pleaded with Medvedev to act to guarantee the safety of rights activists and "rule out the possibility of illegal force against them by the representatives of state structures."

"We ask you to intercede in the spread of a dangerous situation and do everything possible to protect rights workers in the Chechen republic, including Memorial's employees, from threats and defamation by officials," it said.

Adding to the tensions, Memorial head Oleg Orlov has been accused of libel in a criminal investigation into his allegations last year that the Kremlin-backed Kadyrov was responsible for Estemirova's murder.

On the first anniversary of her death last week, Medvedev said the campaigner's murderer was now the target of an international hunt, responding to criticism that Russia has been slow to establish the truth behind the crime.

© 2010 AFP

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