Russian human rights lawyer, reporter shot dead
AFP - Tuesday, January 20
MOSCOW (AFP) - - A masked gunman killed a human rights lawyer who exposed one of the most notorious cases of abuses by Russia's army in Chechnya, together with a journalist who died later in hospital.
Law enforcement sources confirmed that lawyer Stanislav Markelov had been gunned down on a busy street in central Moscow, while a woman, Anastasiya Baburova, was hospitalised with a bullet wound to the head.
The opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta confirmed the death of the 25-year-old intern reporter Baburova in hospital on Monday evening.
"The doctors did everything in their power. A few minutes ago, Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasiya Baburova died," the paper said on its website.
Following the lawyer's death, the prosecutor's investigative department said: "The investigation is studying various theories on the killing, including a link to the deceased's professional activities."
Baburova had written a number of reports on Russia's growing problem of racism and ultra-nationalism for Novaya Gazeta, the paper of the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in 2006.
Human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, said: "The murder in the centre of Moscow of a man, of a lawyer involved in cases of political importance, has as much significance as the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya."
Russian and international human rights groups expressed their concern over the killings and urged Russian authorities to conduct a thorough and immediate investigation.
"We are shocked by the murder. We call for an immediate and efficient investigation", said the Memorial rights group in a statement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), the US-based watchdog denounced the murder, saying the international community should push Moscow to bring the killers to justice.
"Russia's international partners, especially the European Union, should urgently press the Russian authorities to bring to justice those responsible for these killings", said Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
Markelov and Baburova had just emerged from a press conference given by Markelov on the latest turn in the case of Elza Kungayeva, the 18-year-old Chechen whose 2000 strangling by Russian army colonel Yury Budanov became a cause celebre, highlighting systematic abuse by the Russian army in the war in Chechnya.
Budanov was released from jail on Friday after serving most of his 10-year sentence for the young Chechen woman's murder.
Markelov had vowed to challenge the granting of early release to Budanov, who was convicted in 2003 after pressure for a conviction by human rights activists, while ultra-nationalists had rallied to his side.
Budanov's release from jail had prompted street protests in Chechnya attended by both human rights activists and representatives of the region's Moscow-backed authorities.
Kungayeva's father, Visa Kungayev, told Moscow Echo radio Markelov had recently received death threats.
The murdered lawyer had also provided legal help for Politkovskaya, whose work centred on the war-torn southern region of Chechnya, where Russia has fought two full-scale wars since the 1991 Soviet collapse, said Novaya Gazeta.
RIA-Novosti news agency quoted a police source as saying evidence had already been gathered from witnesses to the killing, who testified the gunman had lain in wait as Markelov gave the lunchtime press conference.
"The killer chose his moment, when there weren't many people in the way, quickened his step and shot the lawyer in the back of the head.... The murder was committed in broad daylight in front of dozens of people," the police source said.
While large-scale hostilities have ended in Chechnya, low-level attacks on Russian forces there take place regularly and a number of incidents testify to continued aftershocks.
The murder last week in broad daylight in Austria's capital of a Chechen refugee, Umar Israilov, has prompted claims that killing was politically motivated, although Austrian prosecutors say they have no evidence of this.
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