New York, July 15,
2009--Today's brutal murder of prominent journalist and human rights activist
Natalya Estemirova, at left, in Chechnya
must be thoroughly investigated immediately, the Committee to Protect
Estemirova, 50, was abducted this morning in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, as she was leaving her apartment for work, Reuters reported. She was found shot in the head and the chest in the neighboring region of Ingushetia at around 5 p.m., according to international news reports.
Estemirova was an activist with the Moscow-based human
rights group Memorial and a consultant for the New York-based international
rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW). She was a frequent contributor to the
independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta
and the Caucasus news Web site Kavkazsky Uzel. As she uncovered massive,
ongoing human rights violations in Chechnya by the federal and
regional authorities, Estemirova was often at odds with Chechen authorities,
according to her colleagues.
President Dmitry Medvedev condemned the murder in a
statement from his office and ordered Russia's Investigative Committee to
conduct a thorough probe.
"We are deeply shocked by the murder of Natalya Estemirova
and send our condolences to her family and friends," said CPJ Deputy Director
Robert Mahoney. "President Medvedev must make good on his promise to
investigate this shocking killing by ensuring that the inquiry is thorough and
transparent. The killers of this courageous reporter, one of the few left in
Chechnya, must not be allowed to walk free like so many before them."
Four men pushed Estemirova into a car when she was leaving
her apartment for work in Grozny,
The Associated Press reported. CNN quoted Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, as
saying that Estemirova was overheard yelling, "This is a kidnapping." She was
found shot to death in a neighboring region of Ingushetia later in the day. Orlov told the Russian service of the
U.S.-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Chechen authorities were
behind the murder of his colleague.
Tanya Lokshina, HRW's Russia researcher, told CPJ that Estemirova
was a threat to Chechen authorities because of her fearless reporting on
ongoing human rights violations in the region over the last decade. "Natalya
was the only remaining source of credible information on Chechnya for rights groups and
journalists, including prominent journalist Anna
Politkovskaya," Lokshina said. "Now I am afraid there will be a vacuum
because there is no one to step in." Estemirova had contributed recently to HRW's
report on punitive
burnings of houses by the regional authorities in Chechnya.
reporter Elena Milashina told CPJ that "Natasha never reported on the stories
she did not check--she personally traveled inside Chechnya to talk to people, and
people trusted her only." Estemirova reported on extrajudicial killings,
abductions, and punitive arsons for Novaya
Gazeta; after a wave of threats from the Chechen authorities, she wrote
under a pseudonym, Milashina said.