The global watchdog group Amnesty International has issued a statement saying that the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov in Moscow on January 19 was "very possibly" related to his "professional and courageous work to defend human rights." Sergei Nikitin, the director of the Moscow office of Amnesty International, spoke with RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz about the implications of the killing.
RFE/RL: What affiliations did Markelov have with Amnesty International's Moscow office?
Nikitin: My colleague, who is a researcher on the Russian Federation, had been working with Stanislav Markelov closely on several cases. Markelov [was working] as a lawyer on several cases for the victims [of human rights abuses.] He was involved very closely in cooperation with Amnesty International. So he personally visited our office.
RFE/RL: Why do you think it was Stanislav Markelov's work on human rights that led somebody to kill him?
Nikitin: This is quite an obvious thing. The first obvious thing that would come into mind when we heard the news about this assassination -- that he was killed for his work for human rights. Mr. Markelov was very famous among human rights defenders. He was a very brave person who was protecting human rights, defending them and working on several court cases. So it is obvious that one of the reasons why he was assassinated was his involvement in this work.
RFE/RL: Several recent political killings in Russia and abroad have been linked to Russian authorities or alleged to have been carried out by undercover agents. Do you think that there may be some similar link in Markelov's death?
Nikitin: I think it is early to say that Russia authorities, to some extent, were involved in this. I wouldn't say that. We say we just expect that Russian authorities will make a very deep and thorough investigation into this case and let us know who actually is behind this killing. So I wouldn't be saying that this is another political killing [similar to] other killings. It could be business which is involved.
RFE/RL: Do you think Markelov's death will have a negative impact on Russia’s image?
Nikitin: Looking at this particular killing, it happened yesterday in the very center of the city. That was in the middle of the day when a lot of people were passing by and were around. The fact that this killing was done is such circumstances and in such an environment, it really affects the feelings of society in this country. And it certainly should affect the image of the country.
RFE/RL: Has the killing of Markelov frightened other human rights advocates in Russia, and do you think it will have a chilling effect on their work?
Nikitin: I went to the murder scene today. Hundreds of people came. Bunches of flowers are in the snow. Candles are burning. And it is obvious that people are not scared. Not at all. There were plenty of human rights defenders there. People came to say that they are not frightened. They are going to carry on.