Russia must ensure justice for murdered activists

One year after the murder of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, Amnesty International has reiterated its call on the Russian authorities to stop persecuting human rights activists and bring those responsible for the murders to justice in an open and fair trial.

“The killing of several well-known human rights and civil society activists over the last year and the failure to bring to justice those responsible for previous murders, shows a lack of respect for the work of human rights activists in Russia,” said Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director Halya Gowan.

“Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova as well as Stanislav Markelov’s close allies and friends Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova spoke out against human rights abuses. For that, their most basic human right, the right to life, was violated.”

Stanislav Markelov was shot dead in the centre of Moscow on 19 January 2009 after attending a press conference at which he had discussed plans to appeal against the early release of a Russian former colonel who was imprisoned for the murder of a Chechen girl.

Anastasia Baburova, a journalist from the newspaper Novaya Gazeta who was accompanying Stanislav Markelov, was seriously injured when she tried to stop the killer. She died later that day in hospital.

In November 2009, two people were detained and charged with both murders. One of the accused, Nikita Tikhonov, had been a suspect in the killing of a young anti-fascist whose family was represented by Stanislav Markelov.

In January, Nikita Tikhonov was reported to have withdrawn an earlier confession, claiming he had made it while under pressure.

Natalia Estemirova, one of the leading members of the Russian human rights NGO Memorial in Grozny, Chechnya, was abducted and shot dead in July 2009.

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on 7 October 2006 in Moscow. She had faced intimidation and harassment from Russian authorities, including the authorities in Chechnya, due to her outspoken criticism of government policy and action.

Neither killers have been brought to justice.

“These human rights activists spoke up in the name of victims of serious human rights abuses and brought to light the truth about their abuse. They had only words as instruments to fight for human rights but these words cannot be stopped by bullets,” said Halya Gowan.