KOSHKELDY, Russia – The Associated Press
Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva reacts as she visits the grave of her slain Chechen colleague Natalya Estemirova at a cemetery in Koshkeldy. AP photo.
A leading Russian human rights activist paid an emotional visit to the cemetery where her slain colleague Natalya Estemirova is buried, weeping at her grave and predicting her killers will never be never be brought to justice.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the widely respected 82-year-old head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, had a message as she left the plot in Estemirova's ancestral village: "Curse those who are guilty in Natalya's death."
Estemirova worked for the rights group Memorial, and her reports on alleged rights abuses in Chechnya made her unpopular with the region's strongman leader and his government. She was abducted outside her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on July 15 and found dead later that day, with gunshot wounds to her head and body.
Alexeyeva visited relatives of Estemirova in the village 70 kilometers southeast of Grozny and then spent some time at her grave. She said she fears authorities will not even seek to solve the murder, suggesting an honest investigation could lead to people in power.
"They won't find Natalya Estemirova's killers because they won't look for them," Alexeyeva said. "They may pin it on someone, but the real killers will never be punished." "There are plenty of precedents for this. In recent years quite a few human rights activists have been killed in Russia, and not once have the real killers been found," she said.
There have been no arrests in the January killings of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. The three men tried for the 2006 murder of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who also exposed abuses in Chechnya, were acquitted by a jury this year, and it remains unclear who was behind the killing.
No suspects have been named in Estemirova's killing. Colleagues have said Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov is ultimately to blame for Estemirova's killing - alleging that he has created a climate of violence in which state authorities carry out abuses unpunished - and that Russia's leaders share responsibility because they support Kadyrov.
Kadyrov denies involvement. After two costly wars against Chechen separatists, the Kremlin has relied on him to keep the violence that still plagues Chechnya and the surrounding North Caucasus from spreading deeper into Russia. But an upswing in bombings and other attacks in the region has underscored the challenge the Russian government faces in maintaining control.