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Four Years After The Killing Of Russia Activist Estemirova, Questions Remain

  • RFE/RL

Natalya Estemirova poses at the Front Line Club in London in 2007, where she was awarded the first annual Anna Politkovskaya award for women defenders of human rights in war.

Natalya Estemirova poses at the Front Line Club in London in 2007, where she was awarded the first annual Anna Politkovskaya award for women defenders of human rights in war.

On the fourth anniversary of the abduction of Russian-Chechen rights activist Natalya Estemirova, there are conflicting statements about the status of the investigation into her death.

The 51-year-old documentarist and Kremlin critic was abducted in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on July 15, 2009. Her body, reportedly with bullet wounds to the head and chest, was found the next day in neighboring Ingushetia.

The leader of the Memorial Human Rights Center, where Estemirova worked until her assassination, said on July 15 that investigations into Estemirova's murder have been suspended.

Memorial chief Aleksandr Cherkasov said an initial investigation by authorities showed the possible involvement of local law enforcement in the crime.

Cherkasov said authorities later tried to mislead detectives, blaming militants for the killing.

However, Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin denied Cherkasov's statement, saying on July 15 that the investigation continues and Estemirova's suspected killer, an alleged militant named Alkhazur Bashayev, has been added to Interpol's wanted list.

"The investigation of this criminal case has never been put on halt," Markin said. "The investigators are confident that Alkhazur Bashayev is indeed involved in this crime. This [notion] is fully supported by the entirety of evidence accumulated so far, including the murder weapon recovered at the place of residence of the suspect, outcome of DNA and other tests, as well as interviews of over 1,000 witnesses. This and other evidence unequivocally confirms the conclusion made by the investigators."

Russian authorities believe Bashayev is in France.

Markin confirmed that investigators believe the killing was carried out as "vengeance" for Estemirova's publications.

Kheda Saratova, an activist who worked with Estemirova at the Memorial office in the North Caucasus, rejected the Investigative Committee's statements.

"I am certain that everything [the authorities] are saying [about the investigation of Estemirova's murder] is a complete lie. There is no investigation under way," Saratova said, comparing the investigation to that into the assassination in 2006 of investigative journalist and fellow Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya. "The Bashayev brothers" -- Rizvan, Anzor, and Alkhazur Bashayev -- "the militants who supposedly killed Natalya, were not involved in it at all. Everybody understands this, just as everybody understood where the investigation of Anna Politkovskaya's murder was heading."

Based on reporting by Interfax and ITAR-TASS
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