Slain Chechen girl’s lawyer killed in Moscow
He opposed early release of Russian officer; journalist also slain
Shocking murders in Russia
Jan 19: A prominent Russian lawyer, who fought against the early release of an army colonel convicted of murdering a Chechen girl, was shot dead along with a journalist on a Moscow street Monday.
MOSCOW – A Russian human rights lawyer renowned for his work on abuses in Chechnya was shot to death Monday by a masked gunman who followed him from a news conference, officials said. A young journalist who tried to intervene also was gunned down.
The broad-daylight shootings of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova prompted grief and outrage in a country where lawyers and journalists who challenge the official version of justice are frequently targeted.
Markelov had fought the early release of a Russian colonel whose killing of a Chechen woman in 2000 put names and faces on the gruesome rights abuses in the war-wracked region. His death Monday angered many Chechens, already upset by the release of last week of the military officer.
Colleagues drew comparisons with the 2006 killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya — a client of Markelov’s and a fellow enemy of rights abuses in Chechnya and across former President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
"This is a horrible, frightening crime," said Tatyana Lokshina of the Human Rights Watch.
Prominent rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva called the shooting "a disgrace for Russia," the Interfax news agency reported.
Gunman reportedly used silencer
Markelov, 34, was shot near a building where he had just held a news conference, about half a mile from the Kremlin, said Viktoria Tsyplenkova, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee of the Moscow prosecutor’s office.
Markelov was shot in the back of the head at close range by an attacker who followed him after the news conference, wore a stocking-style mask and had a silencer on his gun — clear signs of a planned killing, state-run RIA-Novosti news agency reported, citing an unidentified law enforcement official. Police also reportedly said there were several witnesses.
Anastasia Baburova, a freelance journalist in her mid-20s who had worked for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta newspaper, was shot when she tried to intervene after Markelov was attacked, said Andrei Lipsky, a deputy editor. Another Novaya Gazeta editor, Sergei Sokolov, later said she died on an operating table.
Markelov, who represented the family of the 18-year-old Chechen woman Budanov killed in 2000, had told reporters he was considering filing an international court appeal against Budanov’s early release, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
The colonel was freed last week with more than a year left in his murder sentence.
Budanov was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to 10 years — including time served — for strangling Heda Kungayeva. He admitted killing her, saying he believed she was a rebel sniper in the Kremlin’s war against Chechen insurgents.
Closely watched case
Budanov’s case was closely watched as a test of authorities’ determination to punish rights abuses in Chechnya. But he was held up as a hero by racist nationalist groups, some of whose members held rallies to support him during court hearings.
Kungayeva’s father Visa Kungayev, who has taken refuge in Norway with his family, said Markelov told him when they spoke Friday that he had been threatened with death if he refused to drop the case, the Interfax news agency reported.
Budanov’s release drew criticism from rights activists and lawyers, who pointed out that inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes but considered Kremlin foes — such as former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky — have been refused early release.
Defense lawyers who represent whistleblowers, Kremlin foes and Russians who claim abuse at the hands of authorities sometimes find themselves targeted, and Politkovskaya is one of more than a dozen journalists killed in Russia since Putin, now prime minister, began his 8-year presidency in 2000.
"Stanislav Markelov is yet another victim — very possibly murdered for his professional and courageous work to defend human rights," Nicola Duckworth, regional program director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.