Times: Little hope of justice for journalist Nataliya Estemirova, silenced ‘t he Chechen way’
- The Times
August 1, 2009
Little hope of justice for journalist Nataliya Estemirova, silenced ‘the
Tony Halpin in Moscow
More than two weeks after the human rights activist Nataliya Estemirova
was murdered, the Russian investigators sent down to Chechnya have made
no arrests and the trail is going cold. To those who live there, where
dissidents and rivals to President Kadyrov frequently meet a violent
death, it is no surprise.
Ms Estemirova, known as Natasha, was snatched in daylight from a street
in central Grozny, the Chechen capital. Her corpse was dumped by a road
hours later with gunshots to the head and body in the neighbouring
southern republic of Ingushetia. The killing made an orphan of Ms
Estemirova’s 15-year-old daughter Lana, who friends say now plans to
leave Russia. An outraged President Medvedev ordered that her killer to
But despite claims from Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s
Investigative Committee, to have identified “a number of possible
suspects” Ms Estemirova’s friends and colleagues are pessimistic.
Leaders of Memorial, the group for which Ms Estemirova, 50, worked
fearlessly to compile evidence of torture, abduction and killings of
civilians by security forces in Chechnya, say that they have little hope
Svetlana Gannushkina, a member of Memorial’s council who also sits on Mr
Medvedev’s new human rights advisory group, told The Times: “We don’t
believe they will find the killers and they won’t find the person who
ordered it either. They will just find some Chechens somewhere that they
can call the killers.”
Memorial has pointed the finger at Mr Kadyrov, a former boxer who rules
with an iron fist under the patronage of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s Prime
Minister. Ms Gannushkina said: “The totalitarian regime that has been
formed in Chechnya is absolutely controlled by Kadyrov and his circle.”
Mr Medvedev dismissed allegations of Mr Kadyrov’s involvement in Ms
Estemirova’s killing as “unacceptable” even before an investigation had
begun. However, it fits a pattern of unsolved assassinations of people
whose only link is that they were all considered hostile to Mr Kadyrov.
This week another opponent had a narrow escape. Isa Yamadayev, who comes
from a rival clan to that of Mr Kadyrov, claimed that a gunman had come
to his home in Moscow on Tuesday and tried to kill him. In stark
contrast to the pace of inquiry into Ms Estemirova’s death, detectives
said yesterday that they had already taken a suspect into custody. Mr
Yamadayev’s brothers, Sulim and Ruslan, were not so lucky. Both
controlled powerful militias in Chechnya. Both are now dead and their
forces taken over by Mr Kadyrov. Ruslan died in a hail of bullets last
September as his car waited at a traffic light near the British Embassy
in Moscow. Sulim was gunned down in March near his home in Dubai, where
his family said he had gone into hiding after warnings that Mr Kadyrov
planned to kill him.
Detectives in Dubai named Adam Delimkhanov, Chechnya’s deputy Prime
Minister — and a cousin of Mr Kadyrov — as a suspect and placed him on
Interpol’s wanted list. Mr Delimkhanov, who sits in the Russian
Parliament for Mr Putin’s party, United Russia, denied involvement.
Six days later the human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and the
journalist Anastasia Barburova, who wrote for the campaigning opposition
paper Novaya Gazeta, were murdered on a Moscow street. Both Mr Markelov
and Ms Estemirova were close friends of Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya
Gazeta journalist who repeatedly attacked Mr Kadyrov and Mr Putin over
rights abuses in Chechnya. She was shot dead in Moscow in October 2006 —
on Mr Putin’s birthday. Despite international pressure nobody has been
convicted of the crime.
Memorial and Ms Estemirova were a constant thorn in Mr Kadyrov’s side.
Activists have said that he rebuked her furiously at a meeting last year
for criticising his order for Chechen women to wear headscarves in
public. They claim that he boasted to her that he was “up to my elbows
Mr Putin installed Mr Kadyrov, 32, as part of his strategy to
“Chechenise” the struggle to defeat separatist rebels. Analysts say that
Mr Kadyrov has grown so powerful the Kremlin can no longer control him.
Mr Kadyrov has threatened to sue Memorial’s leadership for accusing him
of Ms Estemirova’s murder. He says that he is personally overseeing the
effort to catch her killers — chillingly, he threatened to deal with
them “in the Chechen way”. “The President of the Chechen Republic is the
first to want this terrible crime solved,” said his spokesman, Alvi
Kerimov. “We have much more interest than The Times in finding those who
It is not quite true to say there have been no arrests in the Estimirova
case: riot police detained the organiser of a rally in her memory in
Moscow last week. Officials said that too many people had turned up.
* I'd say "the Russian way", which is now practiced in occupied Chechnya
too. I wonder why Mr. Halpin feels that he must stereotypize Chechnya
for a Russian phenomenon exactly in this context? N.S.