This woman may have had the most dangerous job in the world:
A prominent Russian human rights activist has been found dead hours after being kidnapped in the North Caucasus region.
Natalya Estemirova worked for Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest human rights organizations. She was bundled into a car early on July 15 as she left her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, her Memorial colleague Aleksandr Cherkasov said.
Estemirova was a lawyer who documented abductions, torture, and other human rights abuses in Chechnya. She worked with reporters, including murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and other human rights groups.
Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said Estemirova’s work was vital to uncovering abuses in Chechnya. She said Estemirova “was one of the main people who documented the most terrible crimes during the second Chechen war: torture, extrajudicial executions, abductions.
“Natasha has until now remained one of the few people who have continued reporting crimes perpetrated by forces controlled by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.”
Estemirova was awarded the first Anna Politkovskaya Prize in 2007 by the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Speaking to RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service shortly after, she said the authorities were doing nothing to investigate abuses documented by Memorial.
“Changes have happened, changes for the worse. As far as human rights go, it is worse because, first of all, nothing has been done to investigate the crimes that have been committed in Chechnya since 2000,” Estemirova said.
Estemirova is the latest of many prominent Kremlin critics to have been killed in what human rights groups say is an atmosphere of impunity. Lawyer Stanislav Markelov, another of those to have worked with Estemirova, was gunned down on a Moscow street in January.
Dangerous jobs: being a human rights investigator, human rights lawyer, or investigative journalist in Russia. Really dangerous jobs: being a human rights investigator in Chechnya.
It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. There have been some hints that the Kremlin is a little tired of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov. He’s a thug and embarrassingly corrupt; more to the point, his one claim to legitimacy in the Kremlin’s eyes — bringing peace and order to Chechnya — is looking a little frayed around the edges, especially since a lot of the trouble in Chechnya just seems to have moved next door to Ingushetia. (Ms. Estemirova’s killers kidnapped her in Chechnya, but dumped her body over the border in Ingushetia. This looks like a crude attempt to blame the crime on the Ingush resistance. Which would be totally consistent with Kadyrov’s character and M.O.) In theory, the Kremlin could use this — the killing of a photogenic ethnic Russian woman — as a sharp stick to poke him.
But I doubt that will happen; while Medvedev may be getting a little weary of Kadyrov, there isn’t a plausible replacement on the horizon.
Still, it raises a question: how many more people like Estimirova, Politkovskaya and Stanirov are left? If I go to the list of journalists murdered in Russia — I’m telling you, everthing is on Wikipedia — I notice that there’s been a marked shift in the last couple of years: journalists are getting killed in the northern Caucasus, or because they were investigating the northern Caucasus. Every killing since 2007 fits that category.
Assuming the list is complete… does this mean (1) that Russia, except for the northern Caucasus, has calmed down enough that journalists are now safe? Or (2) that Russia, except for the northern Caucasus, is a place where journalists no longer cover stories that could get them killed?
I really don’t know the answer, so I’d welcome comments from our Russian and Russophile readership.