President Kadyrov libel trial reveals danger faced by human rights activists

The information that came to light during a trial initiated by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov against human rights activist Oleg Orlov has served to highlight the dangers faced by human rights activists working on Chechnya, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

“The failure of the authorities to respect the work of independent human rights organizations and to recognize human rights organizations as an integral part of a functioning society has placed the lives of human rights activists at risk and has created a climate of fear,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

A district court in Moscow on Tuesday found in favour of President Kadyrov’s libel suit against Oleg P Orlov, head of the human rights group Memorial. Oleg Orlov had made a statement accusing Ramzan Kadyrov of “being responsible” for the murder of Chechen human rights worker Natalia Estemirova in July. In the statement published on Memorial’s website on 15 July, the day of Natalia Estemirova’s killing, Oleg Orlov said: “We don’t know whether he [Kadyrov] gave the order himself or this was done by his aides to please their boss.”

Oleg Orlov and Memorial  were ordered to pay damages to President Kadyrov and to publish a retraction on the Memorial website.

The witness statements made during the trial reiterated concerns raised by Amnesty International and other human rights NGOs that the Russian authorities were not doing enough to stop harassment of and the violent attacks against human rights activists in Russia and the North Caucasus.

The bodies of human rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik (Umar) Dzhabrailov were found in the boot of a car in August in the Chechen capital Grozny. They had both been shot.

Their murders followed the killing of Natalia Estemirova, one of the leading members of Memorial, on 15 July. She was abducted in Grozny on her way to work. Her body with gunshot wounds was found on the same day in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia.

Natalia Estemirova’s work was crucial in documenting human rights violations in the region, such as torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful killings and enforced disappearances, since the start of the second Chechnya war in 2000. She also devoted herself to providing assistance to displaced people and other socially disadvantaged groups.

Human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova were killed on 19 January in the centre of Moscow in the broad daylight.

Both Natalia Estemirova and Stanislav Markelov were close friends of journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, who herself was murdered on 7 October 2006 in Moscow. She had faced intimidation and harassment from the Russian authorities, including the authorities in Chechnya, due to her outspoken criticism of government policy and action.

After Anna Politkovskaya began writing about the armed conflict in Chechnya and the North Caucasus in 1999, she was detained and threatened with serious reprisals, including death threats, on several occasions.

To commemorate the third anniversary of the Anna Politkovskaya’s death actions are taking place in cities across Europe — Moscow, St. Petersburgh, London, Paris.

“Given the failure to date to bring perpetrators of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya to justice, it is imperative for the credibility of the Russian authorities’ commitment  to their international obligations to ensure that the investigations into the killings of human rights activists will be thorough and impartial,” said Nicola Duckworth.