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Rights groups urge Russia probe of activist Estemirova murder

Human Rights Watch (HRW), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), Front Line Defenders (FLD), Amnesty International (AI) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) [advocacy websites] on Thursday released a joint statement urging the Russian government to investigate the murder [text] of rights activist Natalia Estemirova [BBC obituary]. Estemirova, who was kidnapped in Grozny in July 2009 and shot to death, reported regularly on human rights abuses committed by the Chechen government, including extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances. Her body, which had been shot multiple times, was found [Moscow Times report] in nearby Ingushetia. Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, expressed concern that the investigation has not yielded satisfactory evidence:

Two years after Estemirova's murder, there are more questions than answers about the circumstances surrounding her killing. The Russian authorities need to deliver justice in Estemirova's case to demonstrate their sincerity about protecting human rights in Chechnya and throughout the North Caucasus.
The advocacy groups emphasized the need for a "thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation" so the perpetrators could be held accountable. Joint Mobile Group of the Russian Human Rights Organizations in Chechnya, a group whose members are regularly threatened for pursuing human rights issues, is currently handling the Estemirova case, along with a number of other human rights cases.

Estemirova is one of several rights advocates to be gunned down in Russia in recent years. Prominent opposition leader and human rights activist in Russia's southern province of Ingushetia [official website, in Russian], Maksharip Aushev, was shot dead [JURIST report] in October 2009 while traveling on a highway in the North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria. In August 2009, Chechen human rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov were found dead [JURIST report]. Sadulayeva's death came less than a month after Estemirova's death. The body of Russian human rights activist Andrei Kulagin [JURIST report] was found in a quarry in June 2009. Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin expressed concern in April 2009 that activists in Russia were being attacked with greater frequency [JURIST report]. In January 2009, Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was shot and killed [JURIST report] in Moscow. Markelov represented journalist Anna Politkovskaya [BBC obituary], who was shot to death [JURIST report] in October 2006. JURIST Forum Guest Columnist Pamela A. Jordan argues that Estemirova's murder may help jolt average Russians into demanding that their leaders engage in legal reform in her op-ed Strong-arm Rule or Rule of Law? Prospects for Legal Reform in Russia [JURIST op-ed].

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