Vienna, August 14 – Even as Moscow lawyers for Ramzan Kadyrov press ahead with his suit against Memorial for suggesting the Chechen president was behind Natalya Estemirova’s murder, one of Kadyrov’s closest political allies is charging that rights activists in the republic are “helping” the militants and must be punished for that.
Such statements, the thuggish behavior of Kadyrov and his regime against all his opponents, and new reports that human rights activist Zarema Sadulayeva was tortured before she was killed have created a climate in which, as even Russian prosecutors acknowledge, people in Chechnya are afraid to come forward with evidence in these cases.
Yesterday, lawyers for Kadyrov said in Moscow that they had completed their filings in the defamation case against Oleg Orlov, the head of the Memorial Human Rights Center, and that the first hearing in the case will take place in the Tver district court in the Russian capital on August 31 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/157888).
Kadyrov seeks a formal apology by Memorial that the organization would be required to post on its website as well as 10 million rubles (325,000 US dollars) in compensation for the harm to his reputation from Orlov’s statements that the Chechen president was responsible for the murder of rights activist Estemirova last month.
Orlov has said that he welcomes the chance to present evidence in the case, including materials which show that Kadyrov had repeatedly threatened Estemirova and other rights activists in Chechnya. The case is attracting a great deal of attention in part because Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested Estemirova’s murder was “a provocation.”
Meanwhile, however, not only have the murders of rights activists and other opponents of Kadyrov continued, but a YouTube video clip is now circulating showing Adam Delimkhanov, a Duma deputy and an ally of Kadyrov, explicitly saying that “rights activists in Chechnya are helping the criminal bandits” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/157893).
“There are certain people who call themselves defenders of human rights who help these devils, these criminal militants; they work for them and carry out their tasks and their policies,” Delimkhanov continued. “These people by their speeches frighten people and deceive them. But they do not deceive people. … Truth and justice will always win.”
“Each of these [rights activists] be he a Chechen or an Ingush or someone else,” the Kadyrov ally added, “must know that they will have to answer for their words.” This comment is especially chilling because it appears Delimkhanov made these remarks, Kavkaz-Uzel.ru notes, just “11 days before the kidnapping and murder of Natalya Estemirova.”
Not surprisingly, this has created a climate in Chechnya in which people are afraid to provide any testimony about her murder and those of other rights activists, according to Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Russian Federation’s central investigative committee (http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2009/08/14/n_1393372.shtml).
As a result, according to a report in today’s “Gazeta,” “investigations of cases involving the murder of Chechen rights activists in July and August are proceeding with difficulty.” So far, he said, investigators had found “only two women who have given testimony” about these crimes. Despite that, he said, he was confident that the guilty parties would be found.
But yesterday, a report appeared that suggests the reign of terror in Kadyrov’s Chechnya may be intensifying: A close acquaintance of Sadulayeva, the rights worker murdered along with her husband earlier this week, told Kavkaz-Uzel that her friend had been tortured before being killed “even though she was pregnant” (www.polit.ru/news/2009/08/13/sadulaeva.html).
This report, the latest in a horrific string, will do little to encourage people to come forward, but it is possible that such crimes and the apparent complicity or at least complete indifference to them by the Chechen president will not only spark international outrage but cause Moscow to conclude it can no longer afford to retain the thuggish Kadyrov in office.