Anastasiya Baburova (Novaya Gazeta)
Anastasiya Baburova (Novaya Gazeta)

Journalist, human rights lawyer shot dead in Moscow

New York, January 20, 2009–A reporter for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and a prominent human rights lawyer whose clients included murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya were both shot and killed on Monday. At around 3 p.m., Anastasiya Baburova, 25, and Stanislav Markelov, 34, were walking together toward a metro stop in Moscow after a press conference at the Independent Press Center, when an unknown man shot Markelov in the back of the head with a pistol fitted with a silencer, the independent business daily Kommersant reported, citing sources in the prosecutor-general’s office.

Baburova apparently tried to stop the killer, who had walked past her after shooting Markelov; the man then shot her in the head, Kommersant reported, citing unnamed witnesses of the scene. Markelov died immediately; Baburova died several hours later in a Moscow hospital. “It appears that Markelov was the main target,” Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, told CPJ. He added that the paper is waiting for the official results of the investigation to determine whether Baburova was also targeted.

“We are shocked by these brutal killings and call on Russian authorities to swiftly, thoroughly, and effectively investigate the crime and bring all perpetrators to justice,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “In broad daylight, on a busy Moscow street, in the presence of witnesses, a killer gunned down a lawyer and a journalist in a cold-blooded assassination typical of those that occur in Russia’s present-day climate of impunity.”

Two hours before his assassination, Markelov had given a press conference criticizing the early release on Thursday of former Russian Colonel Yuri Budanov, a tank commander convicted and imprisoned in 2003 on charges of murdering a young Chechen girl named Elza Kungayeva in 2000, Sokolov told CPJ. Markelov represented the Kungayeva family and was planning to appeal Budanov’s early release. He had received threats specifically associated with the case, according to local news reports. Markelov also represented Mikhail Beketov, the editor of the pro-opposition newspaper Khimkinskaya Pravda who was severely beaten in Khimki in November. He had represented the families of many disappeared or tortured Chechen civilians, and had appealed for the opening of a criminal case against the suspected masterminds of the 2000 murder of Novaya Gazeta journalist Igor Domnikov. Before Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in 2006, Markelov defended her in multiple lawsuits, Sokolov said.

Baburova was a student at the Journalism Faculty of Moscow State University and had worked at Novaya Gazeta part-time since October, investigating the activities of neo-Nazi groups in Russia and covering race-motivated crimes, which have been on the rise in Moscow in recent years, Sokolov said.

Baburova is the fourth Novaya Gazeta journalist killed since 2000. Domnikov, 42, a reporter and special-projects editor for the paper, was struck repeatedly on the head with a heavy object outside his apartment building on May 12, 2000. He died on July 16 of that year, after spending two months in a coma. Yuri Shchekochikhin, 53, Novaya‘s then-deputy editor, was abruptly killed in a matter of days by a rare allergy in July 2003. His colleagues say they are convinced he was poisoned to prevent him from uncovering high-level corruption involving officials from the Federal Security Service and the prosecutor general’s office. Politkovskaya, 48, renowned worldwide for her critical coverage of the Chechen conflict, was slain in her apartment building in Moscow in October 2006.

Russia is the third-deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research. Since 2000 alone, 16 journalists have been murdered in Russia in direct retaliation for their work; only in one of these cases–Domnikov’s–have the killers been convicted. In all 16 cases, however, the masterminds remain at large.