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Prominent reporter abducted in Chechnya capital Grozny, body dumped in Ingushetia

Prominent reporter abducted in Chechnya capital Grozny
Chechen journalist and activist Natalia Estemirova poses at the Front Line Club in London in this October 4, 2007 file photo. Estemirova, a prominent human rights activist kidnapped in Russia's troubled Muslim republic of Chechnya on Wednesday has been found dead in woodland, the Interior Ministry in neighbouring Ingushetia said. Picture taken October 4, 2007.

Prominent journalist and human rights activist Natalya Estemirova has been murdered in Chechnya. Estemirova, 50, was abducted Wednesday morning in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, as she was leaving her apartment for work, Reuters reported. She was found shot in the head and the chest in the neighbouring region of Ingushetia at around 5 p.m..

Estemirova was an activist with the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial and a consultant for the New York-based international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW). She was a frequent contributor to the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and the Caucasus news website Kavkazsky Uzel. As she uncovered massive, ongoing human rights violations in Chechnya by the federal and regional authorities, Estemirova was often at odds with Chechen authorities, according to her colleagues.

President Dmitry Medvedev condemned the murder in a statement from his office and ordered Russia's Investigative Committee to conduct a thorough probe.

"We are deeply shocked by the murder of Natalya Estemirova and send our condolences to her family and friends," said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "President Medvedev must make good on his promise to investigate this shocking killing by ensuring that the inquiry is thorough and transparent. The killers of this courageous reporter, one of the few left in Chechnya, must not be allowed to walk free like so many before them."

“We salute the exemplary courage and commitment of this human rights activist and former journalist, we share the grief of her friends and family and we join them in honouring her memory,” Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “We remind the Russian authorities of the violence and abuses to which the population of the Caucasus has been abandoned and we urge them to take action.”

It continued, “The authorities must publicly condemn this murder and demonstrate a real determination to combat impunity. A human rights activist’s abduction in the heart of Grozny and ensuing murder at a time when Chechnya is supposedly safe again shows that, despite the optimistic claims, the issue of the Caucasus has not been resolved.”

Four men pushed Estemirova into a car when she was leaving her apartment for work in Grozny, the Associated Press reported. CNN quoted Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, as saying that Estemirova was overheard yelling, "This is a kidnapping." She was found shot to death in a neighboring region of Ingushetia later in the day. Orlov told the Russian service of the US-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Chechen authorities were behind the murder of his colleague.

Tanya Lokshina, HRW's Russia researcher, told CPJ that Estemirova was a threat to Chechen authorities because of her fearless reporting on ongoing human rights violations in the region over the last decade. "Natalya was the only remaining source of credible information on Chechnya for rights groups and journalists, including prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya," Lokshina said. "Now I am afraid there will be a vacuum because there is no one to step in." Estemirova had contributed recently to HRW's report on punitive burnings of houses by the regional authorities in Chechnya.

Novaya Gazeta reporter Elena Milashina told CPJ that "Natasha never reported on the stories she did not check—she personally traveled inside Chechnya to talk to people, and people trusted her only." Estemirova reported on extrajudicial killings, abductions, and punitive arsons for Novaya Gazeta; after a wave of threats from the Chechen authorities, she wrote under a pseudonym, Milashina said.

Date posted: July 16, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 378