Rights activists say that the death of Maksharip Aushev, who was killed after the car he was driving was peppered by more than 60 bullets, shows that human rights work in the restive North Caucasus is tantamount to suicide.
More than 3,000 people gathered on October 26 in Aushev's home town of Surkhakhi, about 10 kilometers outside Nazran in the Russian republic of Ingushetia, to bury the rights activist.
Aushev, an Ingush activist and businessman, became the latest North Caucasus rights worker to fall victim to violence.
The 43-year-old was killed at the wheel on October 25 as he was driving to visit relatives near Nalchik, in the neighboring republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. A female relative traveling in Aushev's car was also seriously injured in the attack.
Aushev, a strong critic of the former Ingush president, Murat Zvazikov, had briefly run the opposition website Inguhetia.org, formerly owned by fellow activist Magomed Yevloyev. Yevloyev was killed in police custody last year, and Aushev assumed control of the site, stepping down only after Zvazikov was removed by the Kremlin. Death Threats
Tatyana Lokshina, the director of Human Rights Watch in Russia, said Aushev became active in human rights after two of his relatives were kidnapped.
“Personal trauma brought him to opposition and human rights work. His son and his nephew were kidnapped and he got them freed," Lokshina said.
"This was in 2007, and after that he felt that it was his duty to change the situation in the republic, to help other people, to ensure that similar crimes did not take place on the territory of Ingushetia.”
Aushev had received death threats before his murder. In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service in September, he said he had been the target of an attempted kidnapping that month.
He said as he was traveling home after a meeting with officials to discuss the political situation in Ingushetia, his car was stopped by police and his documents seized.
“The policeman who took my documents came up to the open door of the GAZelle and said, 'This is a stolen car. Come with me.' I understood that it was a setup and immediately ran to the side of the road where they had re-routed all the other cars," Aushev said.
"A few of them tried to grab me, but I managed to get away and stop the passing cars. A government official appeared, the deputy of the government representative. He showed the ones who had held me his government pass and started to tell them off, trying to understand what was happening.”
When asked who he thought was behind the kidnapping attempt, Aushev had no doubts as to who was to blame.
“I believe that it was Zyazikov’s people, [the former Ingush Interior Minister Musa] Medov. I think that it could have been at their political order, because they still practically rule the republic,” Aushev said.
Zyazikov was replaced almost exactly one year ago by Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who himself was badly injured in an assassination attempt in June. Aushev was seen as having good relations with Yevkurov. High Death Toll
Yevkurov issued a statement aiming to do everything to track down Aushev's killers, who he said aimed to destabilize the situation in the region. "Maksharip was a famous and well-respected person in the republic," the Ingush leader said.
Violence continues to mount in Ingushetia and other North Caucasus republics, where tensions between law-enforcement agencies, tribal clans, and political groupings remain rife.
An Ingush opposition leader, Magomed Khazbiyev, speaking on October 25 to RFE/RL's Russian Service, blamed the mounting death toll and Aushev's killing on Yevkurov and his government.
"The blame lies with the government and Yevkurov -- first of all with President Yevkurov, and then former [Ingush] leaders, and other officials, right up to the Kremlin. It is the bandit government of this country and its bandit methods that are to blame for [Aushev's] murder," Khazbiyev said.
The region has been deadly for human rights activists.
Natalya Estemirova, who headed Memorial's office in Grozny, abducted and killed in July; a month later, Zarema Saulayeva, the head of a charity for Chechen war victims, was shot dead together with her husband.
Activists including Lyudmila Alekseyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group have urged Khazbiyev to leave the republic, fearing he will be next.
Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said activism has become so dangerous it is tantamount to suicide.
Aushev's murder is a huge blow to the human rights movement, said Aleksandr Cherkasov, a leading member of Memorial.
"It is a big loss because this man has shown that there can be another way besides violence, besides armed resistance," he said.
"There is a nonviolent way toward justice. He was a remarkable person, and it is a big loss for Ingushetia and the whole of Russia. Memorial mourns him."