AP: Slain Activist Faced Pressure From Kadyrov
- Slain Activist Faced Pressure From Kadyrov
20 July 2009By Musa Sadulayev, Steve Gutterman / The Associated Press
GROZNY Natalya Estemirova's last meeting with Chechnya's president did not go well: She faced Ramzan Kadyrov and his lieutenants alone, summoned for a chilling dressing down in which he boasted of having "blood from my hands to my elbows."
The March 2008 confrontation was not the human rights activist's first brush with the bullnecked boxing enthusiast. But looking back, some of her colleagues say, it may have been a grim forewarning of her violent end.
On Wednesday, the 50-year-old single mother and onetime schoolteacher was kidnapped, shot in the head and dumped by a roadside.
Rights activists have laid Estemirova's death at the doorstep of Kadyrov, whose security forces they accuse of the abduction, torture and murder of suspected insurgents and their relatives.
They said Kadyrov's rule had created a climate of lawlessness and impunity that made her killing possible.
"Who is to blame for Natalya's murder? I know this person's name," Oleg Orlov, head of Memorial, where Estemirova worked, told reporters last week. "His name is Ramzan Kadyrov."
Orlov said Estemirova's detailed investigations described Chechnya as a lawless province where "it's possible to abduct people every day, kill them, put them in secret prisons" without little or no risk of punishment.
The result was not surprising: "Ramzan Kadyrov hated Natasha," he said.
Activists said Kadyrov was outraged when Estemirova, in televised remarks in March 2008, criticized his order for women and girls to wear headscarves in schools, universities and government offices a requirement that clashed both with federal law and, many Chechens say, Chechen traditions.
Kadyrov "yelled at her, asked questions about who she lived with, where her relatives were and how old her daughter was," said Tatyana Lokshina, a researcher with the Human Rights Watch who specializes in Chechnya and the surrounding region.
"With Kadyrov she spoke like a schoolteacher she put this D-student in his place," said Alexander Cherkasov, a Chechnya expert at Memorial, choking back tears at the news conference last week. "But he knew how to do more than just spit wads of paper from the back row."
Both Kadyrov and the Kremlin have angrily rebutted allegations of any involvement in the murder, and a Kadyrov spokesman said Friday he would file a slander lawsuit against Orlov.
Kadyrov called Orlov on Thursday to deny involvement in the murder.
Kadyrov showed a pattern of interfering in Estemirova's human rights work. Amid the headscarf dispute, he dismissed Estemirova as head of his handpicked Public Council, a rights advisory group, only weeks after appointing her. And he ordered her to stop her routine visits to police, prosecutors and other officials, Lokshina said, part of her work on behalf of the families of the disappeared and murdered. Fearing for her safety, Estemirova fled to London a short time later, where she worked for Human Rights Watch, said Alison Gill, director of its Moscow office. But she returned three months later.
On July 10, Orlov said, Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev summoned the head of Memorial's Grozny office and told him that the group's most recent material had "caused extreme indignation at the highest level of power."
According to Orlov, the ombudsman added: "You understand that you are putting yourself in grave danger. You need to change your style of work."'
Nukhazhiyev urged Memorial to report alleged abuses directly to Kadyrov and not make them public, Orlov said.
The last straw, several rights activists said, may have been Estemirova's work with Human Rights Watch to publicize the execution of a man suspected of giving a sheep to insurgents: he was allegedly stripped to his underwear and shot in a village square by police July 7.
Memorial will suspend its work in Chechnya, Cherkasov told Ekho Moskvy radio on Saturday. "We have seen that the work that Natasha was involved in, the work done by our colleagues in Chechnya documenting crimes committed by representatives of the authorities is fatally dangerous. We can't put them at risk," he said.