Lawyer for Family of Budanov’s Victim and Journalist Murdered in Moscow

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 3

Stanislav Markelov, the human rights lawyer who represented the family of Elza Kungaeva, the 18-year-old Chechen woman murdered by Russian Colonel Yuri Budanov in the Chechen village of Tangi-Chu in March 2000, was also murdered in Moscow on January 19. Markelov, who was the founder and president of the Moscow-based Rule of Law Institute, was shot a short distance from the Kremlin by a masked gunman, who also shot Anastasia Baburova, a night student at Moscow State University’s journalism school and a writer for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who was walking with Markelov at the time of the shooting. The lawyer had just held a press conference at Moscow’s Independent Press Center, during which he condemned the December 24 court decision granting Budanov parole (North Caucasus Weekly, January 9). Budanov was released from prison on January 15, having served eight years and six months of his ten-year sentence for Kungaeva’s murder.

Markelov died at the scene of the crime while Baburova, who had attended his press conference, died of her wounds in a hospital several hours later. Baburova, who appears not to have been an intended target, was shot by the gunman as she pursued him after he gunned down Markelov.

As reported on January 20, many human rights activists believe Markelov’s murder was directly connected to the Kungaeva case. It should be noted that Markelov had filed an appeal with Russia’s Supreme Court challenging Budanov’s early release and said he might also file an appeal challenging the decision to grant Budanov parole with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Interfax on January 19 quoted Kungaeva’s father, Visa Kungaev, as saying he had “no doubt” that Markelov was killed for “firmly and consistently defending” the interests of the Kungaev family and for filing an appeal with the Russian Supreme Court to overturn Budanov’s early release. “I am sure this is the work of Budanov’s people,” Kungaev told Interfax. “It is also a warning to other lawyers as well as rights defenders and journalists to keep away from Budanov’s case.”

In 2003, Visa Kungaev, his wife and four surviving children fled Russia to Norway, and police there have put the family under protective custody in the wake of Markelov’s murder. RIA Novosti quoted Kungaev as saying that his family had been forced to move from Russia to Norway after receiving threats over the Budanov case.

Budanov, for his part, called Markelov’s murder a “dirty provocation” in a telephone interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda published on January 20, during which Budanov also conveyed condolences to the families of Markelov and Baburova.

While Budanov’s condolences were cynical at best, Kommersant on January 20 quoted one of Markelov’s colleagues at the Rule Of Law Institute, Vasily Syzganov, as saying he doubted that Budanov killed the lawyer. “I cannot imagine that a man would spend eight years in places of detention and think only about how to kill the opposing party’s lawyer,” Syzganov told the newspaper. “Most likely, somebody simply took advantage of Yuri Budanov’s release,” he added.

In addition, various observers have noted that Markelov undoubtedly had multiple enemies as a result of his work as a human rights lawyer. As the Moscow Times noted on January 20, Markelov’s other clients included Khimkinskaya Pravda editor Mikhail Beketov, an anti-corruption campaigner who was gravely beaten in Khimki, just north of Moscow, in unclear circumstances last year; Chechen Yana Neserkhoyeva, a Nord-Ost hostage accused of helping terrorists in 2002; and Zelimkhan Murdalov, a kidnapped Grozny resident assisted by Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who herself was shot dead in central Moscow in 2006. In addition, reported on January 20 that Markelov “often represented the interests of anarchist and pacifist movements, defended victims of police actions … criticized the authorities, spoke out against Nazi movements, [and] took part in … mass protests.”

Amnesty International noted in a January 19 press release that it had campaigned on Markelov’s behalf back in 2004 after he was attacked, beaten and had documents stolen relating to his work on behalf of Zelimkhan Murdalov. According to Amnesty International, Murdalov was abducted and tortured by Sergei Lapin, an OMON special police detachment officer also known as “Kadet” who allegedly sent threatening letters to Politkovskaya after she published articles linking him and his OMON colleagues to Murdalov’s torture.

Kommersant on January 20 quoted Novaya Gazeta military correspondent Vyacheslav Izmailov as saying that he wrote an article published last July about Magomedsalikh Masaev, a Chechen living in Moscow who claimed he had been held prisoner by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov for several months. After the article was published, Masaev received anonymous telephone threats and then disappeared with two of his friends while on a visit to Chechnya in August 2008. At the request of Novaya Gazeta, Markelov managed to convince the Investigations Department for the Zavodsky district of the Chechen capital Grozny that Masaev had been kidnapped and that it should launch a criminal probe into the abduction. According to Izmailov, Chechen authorities subsequently tried to squash the probe, but Markelov made it difficult for them to do so by constantly telephoning Chechnya to find out how the investigation was progressing, demanding that searches be stepped up and getting human rights activists and journalists involved in the case. Izmailov told Kommersant that he believes a possible motive for Markelov’s murder lies in the Masaev case. Masaev, it should be noted, remains missing.

In Izmailov’s interview with Masaev, which appeared in Novaya Gazeta last July 10, Masaev said armed men had detained him in the Chechen town of Gudermes in 2006 and then drove him and two supporters to a base where they were imprisoned from September 28, 2006 to January 21, 2007. Masaev said they were held in an old bus, beaten and subjected to a mock execution. Kadyrov visited them there once, and while he did not beat or torture them, Masaev said the Chechen leader “extended his foot as if he wanted us to lick it and to ask for mercy.”

In a press release last August 5 about Masaev’s disappearance, Human Rights Watch quoted Markelov as saying that Masaev’s abduction two days earlier was “an attempt to thwart this unprecedented criminal case about a secret prison run by the leadership of Chechnya.” Markelov told the New York-based rights watchdog that he feared Chechen authorities were trying to force Masaev to retract his testimony.

Chechen officials, meanwhile, insist that Markelov’s murder was the result of him representing the Kungaev family. Kommersant on January 20 quoted Nurdi Nukhazhiev, Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, as saying that supporters of Budanov had “celebrated the release of their idol” by shooting the human rights lawyer.

According to the Moscow Times, the Chechen government reported on its official website on January 20 that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov had posthumously awarded Markelov a medal for his “merits to the Chechen Republic.” The newspaper also reported that over 1,000 people had rallied in Grozny on January 20, calling for Markelov’s killers to be brought to justice (see Fatima Tlisova’s article in this issue).