Letters   |   Russia

Natalya Estemirova case must be solved, say CPJ, PEN

October 29, 2009

H.E. Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
23 Ilinka Street
Moscow 103132
Russia

Via facsimile: +7 (495) 606 5173

Your Excellency,

On the day PEN American Center and the Committee to Protect Journalists join together for a public tribute to slain independent journalist and human rights defender Natalya Estemirova, we call on you to ensure that both her assassins and those who sent them to her doorstep are brought to justice.

Estemirova, 50, wrote articles on state-condoned crimes in Chechnya, including kidnappings, torture, and extrajudicial killings, for the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta and the Caucasus news Web site Kavkazsky Uzel. She also headed the Grozny branch of Memorial, one of Russia’s leading human rights organizations, and contributed research to Human Rights Watch. Through her professional work, Estemirova had accumulated a damning body of evidence linking human rights crimes to Chechen authorities, particularly the militia of local President Ramzan Kadyrov. Estemirova was among the diminishing number of public witnesses to the human toll of the Second Chechen War. Like Anna Politkovskaya before her, Estemirova had dedicated her life to telling the story of Chechnya to the world.

On July 15, as she was leaving her Grozny apartment for work, four men forced Estemirova into a white Lada sedan and sped off. Witnesses said she shouted out that she was being kidnapped. Later the same day, her bullet-ridden body was found in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, near the village of Gazi-Yurt. She had been shot, execution-style, in the head and chest; no belongings were reported taken.

Estemirova became the 18th journalist murdered in Russia in direct retaliation for her work since 2000. In only one case have the killers been convicted; all of the masterminds walk free. Impunity has bred fear and self-censorship among Russia’s press corps. The public has suffered as a result, kept in the dark about sensitive issues of domestic and international importance. In the aftermath of Estemirova’s assassination, the Grozny branch of Memorial stopped its activities and Novaya Gazeta editors announced they were suspending staff trips to Chechnya because they could not ensure reporters’ safety.

It is imperative that Russian authorities conduct an independent, thorough, and timely investigation that focuses on Estemirova’s work as the motive for her murder. Given the scathing remarks Ramzan Kadyrov made after the killing—calling Estemirova “a woman no one needs” in a radio interview—the integrity of investigation dictates that outside investigators be assigned. We call on you to ensure that such an investigation is begun immediately and continues with full diligence. Allowing impunity to prevail in this case will undermine the rule of law, the public’s right to be informed, and the country’s image as a reliable international partner.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director, Committee to Protect Journalists

K. Anthony Appiah
President, PEN American Center

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