Spring cleaning seems to have begun early in Russia this year...
More Moscow Murder - Two Critics of Vladimir Putin Take Bullets in the Head
ANOTHER RUSSIAN fighting for human rights and the rule of law has been murdered in Vladimir Putin's Moscow. Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who defended Chechens brutalized by Russian troops and journalists who wrote about the abuses, was shot in the head yesterday by a masked man carrying a silencer-equipped pistol. An opposition journalist who tried to intervene, Anastasia Baburova, was also fatally shot in the head. This occurred in broad daylight, on a busy street in central Moscow less than half a mile from the Kremlin. It was another demonstration that assassinations are a dominating feature of political life under Mr. Putin's regime. Mr. Markelov, 34, was killed just after holding a news conference. In recent days, he had been fighting against the early release from prison of a Russian colonel who had been convicted of brutally murdering a Chechen woman. The officer, Yuri Budanov, has become a symbol for many of Russia's gross violations of human rights in Chechnya, since he was one of the few officers ever held accountable. Mr. Budanov's release a year before the end of his sentence prompted protest demonstrations in Chechnya; Mr. Markelov pointed out that Mr. Budanov's release contrasted sharply with the treatment of nonviolent political prisoners such as former Yukos oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was denied parole. The larger story here is of serial murders of Mr. Putin's opponents, at home and abroad. Ms. Baburova, 25, is at least the 15th journalist to be slain since Mr. Putin took power. No one has been held accountable in any of the cases -- including that of Anna Politkovskaya, a former client of Mr. Markelov who also was murdered execution-style in broad daylight, on Mr. Putin's birthday in 2006. In London, dissident former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned; so was Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who survived. Karina Moskalenko, another opposition lawyer who has represented Ms. Politkovkaya's family, fell ill from mercury poisoning in Strasbourg, France, in October, just before a hearing in the case. Last week in Vienna, a Chechen dissident who had received political asylum was murdered on the street -- shot twice in the head. It is possible that Mr. Putin and his security services had nothing to do with any of these murders. But it is a fact that the Russian leader has not pressed for justice; on the contrary, he has protected the suspects identified by Scotland Yard in the Litvinenko case. What is indisputable is that Russians live in a political climate in which those who criticize Mr. Putin or the human rights violations of his government can be murdered with impunity. Although some of the killings have occurred in their cities, Western governments have made no attempt to hold Mr. Putin or the Russian government accountable. Their silence helps keep brazen murder a part of Russia's politics.
Critic of Chechen President Is Killed in Exile in Vienna
A Chechen who had formally accused the president of Chechnya of participating in kidnappings and torture sessions was fatally shot Tuesday as he walked out of a grocery store in Vienna, according to his lawyer and family friends. The shooting appeared to be another politically motivated killing of a Russian citizen who had criticized government conduct. The slain man, Umar S. Israilov, 27, had been detained as a separatist rebel, then was given amnesty, and briefly became a bodyguard to President Ramzan A. Kadyrov of Chechnya. He ultimately fled Chechnya for Europe. In late 2006, Mr. Israilov filed a complaint against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights that detailed his claims of the systematic use of abductions and torture by Mr. Kadyrov, and indigenous security forces under Mr. Kadyrov’s command, to punish suspected insurgents and their families. The complaint covered events from 2003 through 2005, when Mr. Kadyrov led a state-sponsored militia and became the republic’s deputy prime minister. It included Mr. Israilov’s experiences as one of Mr. Kadyrov’s victims and later as a witness to what he said were Mr. Kadyrov’s crimes against others.
In an interview with The New York Times last fall, Mr. Israilov described several of the allegations, including the beating and kicking of detainees by Mr. Kadyrov and his fighters, the rape of a detainee by one of Mr. Kadyrov’s subordinates, and Mr. Kadyrov’s use of a device that delivered electric shocks to prisoners. Mr. Israilov said Mr. Kadyrov had used the electrical device on him, turning a hand-crank to deliver an excruciating charge. “It feels as if all of your muscles are going to explode,” he said. “It was as if you were being torn apart.” After Mr. Israilov fled Russia, his father was abducted, tortured by Mr. Kadyrov and held illegally for more than 10 months, in an effort to force the son to return home, according to both victims and a human rights worker who investigated the case. Mr. Israilov’s father, who has received asylum in another European country, planned to travel to Vienna this week to arrange his son’s funeral, a friend of the family’s said by telephone.
The news of Mr. Israilov’s killing became public late Tuesday night in Russia. Mr. Kadyrov’s spokesmen could not be reached. Mr. Kadyrov has long been accused of human rights abuses and of ruling Chechnya through patterns of organized sadism and fear. He has always vehemently denied the accusations. As the allegations have mounted over the years, his rise to power has been nurtured by the Kremlin. He has remained closely associated with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who in 2004, as president, awarded him the Hero of Russia medal, the nation’s highest honor. Mr. Israilov’s complaint presented one of the first formal challenges in Europe to Mr. Kadyrov’s official stature in Russia and raised implicit questions about his privileged place in Mr. Putin’s circle.
Mr. Israilov had been granted asylum by Austria, but his life there had been filled with worries about his safety. In the interview last fall, he said he limited his movements and contacts with strangers after an emissary from Mr. Kadyrov visited Austria and tried to dupe him into returning home. “Ramzan is a very powerful man,” Mr. Israilov said, “and he can have anyone killed.” Nadja Lorenz, his lawyer in Vienna, said by telephone that she had recently sought protection for Mr. Israilov from the Austrian authorities, but that the request had been denied. A family friend of Mr. Israilov’s gave this account of his killing: He was ambushed at lunchtime on Tuesday near his apartment as he left a grocery store where he had stopped to buy yogurt. At least four men in two cars were waiting for him. Mr. Israilov tried to run away but was quickly overtaken and shot. The family friend, out of fear for his own safety, asked that his name be withheld.