Reporters Without Borders is appalled and saddened by the murder of former journalist Natalya Estemirova, the Russian human rights NGO Memorial’s representative in Chechnya. Her body was found on the afternoon of 15 July in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia following her abduction in the morning in the Chechen capital of Grozny.
Estemirova helped Reporters Without Borders conduct a fact-finding visit to Russia’s three Caucasian republics – Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan – in March. The information and analyses she shared with Reporters Without Borders reinforced our conviction that the Caucasus is on the brink of chaos and that human rights activists like her are bravely filling the gap left by a dwindling independent press.
“We salute the exemplary courage and commitment of this human rights activist and former journalist, we share the grief of her friends and family and we join them in honouring her memory,” said Reporters Without Borders, which participated in a demonstration in her honour in Paris on 17 July.
“We remind the Russian authorities of the violence and abuses to which the population of the Caucasus has been abandoned and we urge them to take action,” the press freedom organisation added. “The authorities must publicly condemn this murder and demonstrate a real determination to combat impunity. A human rights activist’s abduction in the heart of Grozny and ensuing murder at a time when Chechnya is supposedly safe again shows that, despite the optimistic claims, the issue of the Caucasus has not been resolved.”
Employed by one of Russia’s best known human rights NGOs, Estemirova specialised in exposing human rights violations in Chechnya and previously helped to cover the wars in this troubled republic as a journalist. She was awarded many prizes and was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2004.
Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, claimed that Estemirova’s murder was ordered by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who had never hidden his hostility towards her and had even threatened her publicly.
Kadyrov responded by describing Orlov’s allegation as “bizarre” and brought a libel suit against him. As a result, Memorial announced on 18 July that it was temporarily suspending its activities in Chechnya.