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Times: Little hope of justice for journalist Nataliya Estemirova, silenced ‘t he Chechen way’

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  • Norbert Strade
    The Times August 1, 2009 Little hope of justice for journalist Nataliya Estemirova, silenced ‘the Chechen way’(*) Tony Halpin in Moscow More than two weeks
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1 8:54 AM
      The Times

      August 1, 2009

      Little hope of justice for journalist Nataliya Estemirova, silenced ‘the
      Chechen way’(*)

      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
      be found.

      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
      of justice.

      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
      in blood”.

      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
      were responsible.”

      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.
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